I’m John Pepper. Thanks for stopping by.
I live in Hanover, NH with my wife Maggie and our kids Tibby (17), Izzy (15) and Bo (8). We moved across the river from Norwich, VT in November 2020, only about a mile as the crow flies. I’ve spent way too many years commuting back and forth to Boston. From 2009-2014 we lived full-time in downtown Boston to reduce that commuting time, and while we loved it, we are rural folks at the end of the day. We like peace and quiet, starry skies, the outdoors.
I’m passionate about finding, investing in, and even (when nothing else exists) developing technology that aids the restaurant business and most importantly its hourly workers. I have worked closely with many technology start-ups since around 2000 when I first realized how slow the restaurant business was to adopt new innovations that could help build stronger businesses over time. In 2021, I’ve invested in over 30 small businesses and start-ups and that’s how I spend most of my time these days.
I don’t follow the norms, though I’m not as adventure-seeking as some of my heroes (like Richard Branson) and that causes me frustration at times. In 2013, I became a part-time Lyft and Uber driver just to get a sense of how gig work could contribute to the lives of people in low wage jobs (and wrote a lot about it here). I later learned to be a pretty decent drone pilot. I write a lot (but haven’t… yet… published anything other than a few blogs on this site once in a blue moon), and try to remain open-minded and flexible about how to spend the next 25 years of my career now that the first 25 are in the rear view mirror. I’m truly unemployable which helps narrow my options a great deal.
Until Covid, I had been working hard on a new technology startup called Worthee. It was my dream start-up, to be honest – I felt like this would be the culmination of the things I cared about most in business. Worthee focuses on bringing people in hourly and low income jobs into the Information Age so that they, too, can take advantage of opportunities in their careers and lives that they often miss out on today. You can visit Worthee at www.worthee.com, though it won’t tell you much. After a strong start in 2019 with over 5,000 members and exciting engagement, we didn’t receive a strong reception as we went out to raise our Series A round of funding (our seed, or perhaps more appropriately pre-seed, round was $1.2M raised in the spring of 2019). Check out my unsent (but now published) letter to Reid Hoffman here which will likely give you a better sense of what Worthee aims to accomplish.
I co-founded Boloco in 1997 with partners Adam Liebman, Jason Hutchinson and Gregg Harris – and if people know my name, its usually attached to Boloco. The first Boloco business plan was written as part of an Entrepreneurship class during my second year at Tuck. We opened our first location at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While Boloco quickly became known for its unique variety of delicious and globally inspired burritos, bowls, smoothies and shakes, its mantra “even a burrito aspires” over time guided my terrific teams of people to cultivate a nationally-recognized, award-winning consumer brand. Boloco’s appealingly off-center and honest brand personality, its maniacal commitment to amazing its guests, its innovative use of technology to enhance visitor experiences and its early leadership in environmental improvement efforts have all contributed to its reputation
Most importantly, however, Boloco’s long-time mission to positively impact the lives and futures of people who work in fast food through bold and inspired food and practices has put the company on a different playing field (and not always a comfortable one) than most other restaurant businesses in the United States. In 2016, the average wage in the company finally surpassed MIT’s livable wage figures in all of the markets in which Boloco does business (more than 25% higher than most of its competitors and minimum wage). We also became a certified B Corporation in 2016.
In 2019, our average hourly wage was just over $15.25, including earned over time for those who request it. In 2021, the average hourly wage surpassed $18.00. Our minimum starting wage is $15 per hour in MA and $16 per hour in NH. We do these things while trying to maintain a respectable level of profitability… it’s not a given we will always be able to do this. But we will keep trying.
I did get lucky a couple of times and won the 2012 Regional Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and in 2017 was named one of the top 24 “Movers and Shakers” in the restaurant industry by Fast Casual for my “brutal honesty” and transparency. I like to speak at conferences and universities on social justice in business, inclusive entrepreneurship, the highlights and pitfalls of raising institutional capital and technology in restaurants and small business. I was also honored to be asked to present my views on the business case for higher wages at TEDxNortheasternU in 2014.
I graduated from Dartmouth College in 1991 and the Tuck School of Business in 1997. I’m originally from Cincinnati, OH and continue to salivate over 2 cheese coneys and a 3-way from Skyline Chili followed by Black Raspberry Chip Ice Cream from Graeter’s.
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