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Thousands Visit Anna’s Opening

By Jeffrey Chang

STAFF REPORTER

About 2,000 students got a free drink and meal at Anna’s Taqueria in the Student Center on Wednesday evening be-tween 5:05 and 10:30 p.m., according to Manager Francisco Laeos. On Thursday, the first official day of business, Laeos said the restaurant received about 2,000 more customers. Anna’s will be open from 10:00 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. on weekends.

Yesterday, The Tech interviewed Michael Kamio, the owner of the five Anna’s Taquerias in the Cambridge area.

TT: So what is your role, as the owner of Anna’s Taqueria?

MK: As the owner, I look at the overall -- where Anna’s at MIT fits into all the Anna’s restaurants, how we supply it, how we market it, and I look for new locations.

TT: Are you considering new locations?

MK: We’re looking over at Kenmore Square, we’re looking into Boston, maybe in the Mass General area.

TT: How did you get into this business?

MK: I have a cousin who’s eleven years older than me, and he started a similar restaurant in San Francisco called Gordo’s. And he and I never had anything in common, until about, I don’t know, ten years ago. And we never talked to each other. Now, it’s like, we’re brothers. He’s in San Francisco, I talk to him every week. So my cousin, in San Francisco, started a similar restaurant, twenty years ago. And that’s where I learned the business. I came here, and I tried to start a similar restaurant... but it failed. So I took what I learned from that, and then nine, almost ten years ago, I started Anna’s. And it was well received.

TT: What about the cooking?

MK: Well, we tweaked some of the recipes... but the basic recipes and everything came from Gordo’s.

TT: How did you come up with the name?

MK: Anna’s? Well, we wanted something simple, something that’s easy to remember. We wanted a name that’s motherly. And it had to be a name that a Mexican mother could have... and it started with “A,” so it was at the front of the alphabet.

TT: How did your decision to bring Anna’s to MIT come about?

MK: Well, it started early last June, and I was talking to MIT’s head of real estate, and he said, “Mike, you better talk to Richard Berlin and campus dining, ’cause they need to talk with you.” And apparently, there was strong demand by the students for Anna’s to come on campus, so Richard Berlin and I started talking. And now, you see where we are.

TT: How do you expect business to be?

MK: Well, this is a perfect place for Anna’s to go. MIT students love Anna’s. And a lot of college students in the Boston area love Anna’s. And I think we’ll do really well here, and, we have to be consistent and produce the burritos that students want. As long as we can do that, I think we’ll thrive. It’s a win-win situation. It’s a win for the students, who can have Anna’s on campus, it’s a win for us because we have a strong campus location, it’s good for the Student Center, because it will attract more people...

TT: On that note, how do you think you’ll fare with the local competitors in the Student Center?

MK: I think everybody will do well. It’ll bring in more people -- not everybody’s gonna want to eat a burrito. Somebody will want to go to Alpine Bagel or somebody will want to go to LaVerde’s... and they’ll grab a sandwich while their friend grabs a burrito. And then that just means more people will come into the Student Center, and the Student Center will be more vibrant.

TT: How did you decide on the prices, and are they lower or higher than other locations?

MK: Well, you know, at Anna’s, we try to produce a good product at a reasonable price. That’s why you can have a burrito for $3.10, or a Super Burrito for $3.75. We did raise prices... we are going to raise prices across the board, at all locations. We haven’t done it yet, but we’re starting here at MIT. And we raised our prices ten or fifteen cents an item, nothing outlandish. You know, we have rising insurance costs, some of our food costs are rising. And we haven’t raised our prices in four, five years. So, we’re still trying to keep our prices low, so, again, everybody wins. The customers get a good product, at a good price. And we’ll have a strong volume, so Anna’s thrives.

TT: Was the crowd what you expected on Wednesday?

MK: (Laughs.) That was what I expected. I thought it would be like that, because we’ve done it before, at other locations. I don’t think that’s what [the manager] expected. But it was close to what he expected. He was prepared. No one went away hungry. Everybody got a burrito. And they went from 5:00, actually 5:05, to 10:30. And they took care of everybody. And I’d guess it was about 1,500 kids. A lot of people, right? There were two lines, they kept moving, we kept looking up and the lines kept coming on, and we kept looking up, and the lines were still there. You guys were great, you guys asked us to come on campus, you guys were patient. We were eagerly anticipated. We just got our licenses yesterday. That’s what held us up. We were held up last week, because of the water main break. The inspectional services in Cambridge said on Monday they couldn’t inspect us because they had a fire, at the biohazard lab at Harvard, and they said that there was pollutants in the air over there because of that. So, we waited and we waited, and we got all our inspections, then we got our license [Wednesday] morning, and we were able to open up.

TT: What’s the difference between the grilled chicken and the chicken?

MK: Oh, the grilled chicken? And the chicken? The grilled chicken, obviously, is grilled. It’s marinated with lemon and onions, and we grill it. Now the regular chicken, is boiled chicken, that’s been shredded.

TT: What would you say about the nutritional value of one of the burritos, or how many grams of fat it has?

MK: Oh, I don’t know how many grams of fat it has, and the nutritional value -- I mean, everything’s made fresh. We make our rice fresh, we make the beans fresh, the salsa is made every day. From that point of view, it’s not processed food, it’s fresh food. All I know is -- it tastes good, right? Fresh is the best. And a burrito is best eaten when it comes straight off the line. I mean, even if you wait 15 minutes, the burrito doesn’t taste as good as when you first got it.

TT: Would you say it’s better for people to know exactly what they want before they go up to order, so they know what to say?

MK: Well -- the ordering process is a bit daunting, don’t you think? Sometimes, ’cause when you go up there, you’re like “Uh, ah,” but usually for people, the more they come, the more they know how to order, the more they know what they want. And you know, you can always ask the guys questions. Like, what’s the difference between grilled chicken and regular chicken? Or you can say, how do you grill your steak? They’ll try to answer for you. Or you know, what’s carnitas -- Mexican roast pork. Or can I have carnitas in a taco, can I have carnitas in a quesadilla -- you can have carnitas any way you want. But it is a little daunting. The more you go to Anna’s, the more you know what you want. I mean, I don’t eat a Super Burrito, I eat a regular burrito. Or sometimes I eat a Super Burrito, but downsized, ’cause I don’t want to -- a super burrito’s big, don’t you think? You can’t -- can you eat a super burrito?

TT: Um, yes.

MK: But you don’t need to, right? So, I mean, I’ll eat a small burrito, and I’ll put a little bit of rice, a little bit of beans, and whatever topping I want. But, people know [what they want]. The ordering process... at lunch time, or dinner time, when people go there, there’s always a line. They say it’s like a burrito assembly line. And they call them spoon ninjas, you know those guys, right, ’cause they’re going “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch” [waves hands in air] and whatever... but they’re pretty good.

TT: So you actually eat your stuff, then?

MK: Me? Oh man, there’s no place else I’d rather eat, really.

TT: You see it every day, you don’t get sick of it?

MK: Nope... So, you know, I go there, I go to Pho Pasteur -- you ever go to Pho Pasteur? -- I love Pho Pasteur. I go to Chinatown... I go eat sushi up at Oishi... and I know the owner, so he treats me very well. So, there’s certain places I like to go and eat... and Anna’s, I never get tired of it.

It’s amazing, I had a customer, who was going to be a consultant in Vienna last year. He took 37 burritos and froze them. And took them to Vienna with him. So, yeah, stories like that... I have another guy, who worked for a high-tech company here, but lived in Washington, D.C.... and he would take ten frozen burritos home with him. Once, I was in Costa Rica, on my honeymoon. There’s a volcano there, and there’s a spa. And I go walking in to where you put on your swimsuit, and a guy says, “You own Anna’s Taqueria!”

TT: So where did you go to school?

MK: I went to Cal-Berkeley. (Laughs.) I should have come here.