In 1985, Steven “Kip” Kolow and his partner, Arthur Cores, opened the first Boston Chicken location, in Newton. Ten years and 217 stores later, it became the now ubiquitous home-style-on-the-go restaurant chain, Boston Market. But when he felt the company’s direction had strayed from his original vision, Kolow left to pursue other endeavors.
It was in the 1990s that Boston Chicken caught the attention of several chain-store capitalists. The first was local businessman George Naddaff, who had been scouting out Kolow and Cores’s establishment for weeks before proposing a partnership with the founders. With that Boston Chicken began its rapid expansion. By mid-1994 the company, now under entirely new management, grew to 330 stores and continued to expand at a rate of one new store every business day, and was changed into Boston Market.
But the aggressive development proved unsustainable until the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Finally, after years of financial instability, the Boston Market chain was purchased by the McDonald’s Corp. in 2000 for $173.5 million (and it has since been sold yet again, to a private equity firm).
With all of that behind him, Kolow marks his return to the restaurant industry with the upcoming opening of SlowBones Modern BBQ at Burlington Marketplace, which he says is just stop number one on what he hopes will be a nationwide venture.
Kolow, 52, of Wayland, spoke with us about the lessons he’s learned during his time with Boston Chicken, his plans to make his BBQ joint a success, and his favorite dish on the new menu.
Q. Why did you choose to open the flagship SlowBones in Burlington?
A. Burlington is the perfect location. It represents the market that we believe we will attract. It’s a representation of the kind of place where we can open restaurants around the nation. It’s right across from the mall, it has a high average daytime traffic, and we have great neighbors.
Q. With SlowBones, you stuck with the comfort food theme, but gave it Southern flair.
A. There’s nothing Southern about it. I don’t consider it Southern BBQ. We have great authentic BBQ, but the flavors of our food cater to the masses.
Q. What was the original idea behind Boston Market?
A. The idea was to create a place that offered food that was not currently available. A place where people could come get food made from scratch. . . . It was essentially a place to get the food you would want to eat with family that wasn’t available to get quickly, warm, and ready to eat. We wanted to satisfy a demand — or at least something that I would want — that didn’t exist in the market then.
Q. What do you think could be said about the success of Boston Market overall?
A. I have a lot of mixed feelings on that. Originally, my partner and I started something we were passionate about. Over time the concept changed a bit. It’s great to see that there are still lot of Boston [Markets] around, but I wish it still had the attention to detail and the quality of food that it did back in the day.
Q. Over the course of five years, Boston Market [then Boston Chicken] went from having revenues of $43 million in 1993 to filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1998. Did you foresee this kind of financial trouble?
A. I wasn’t involved in management at that point. I got out of it in the early ’90s, late ’80s. We sold controlling interest to a group of investors and they took over. [After that,] I got involved with lots of Internet-related businesses and real estate investments.
Q. So why did you decide to get back into the food industry?
A. I always wanted to get back into it. The concept is something I came up with almost five years ago. I thought now was the right time. BBQ is hot. I think there’s a market for it all over the country and potentially other countries; 25 or 30 years ago, people weren’t focused on what they are today. Now, we’re honoring the ways people feel comfortable eating [our food]. All of our sauces are made without high fructose corn syrup in them. We have gluten-free options too.
Q. What did you learn from your experiences with Boston Market? Do you plan to do things differently this time around?
A. I learned a lot from my Boston Chicken days. A lot of things that worked, I will incorporate this time. Quality is important — listening to what people want, using quality ingredients, providing a comfortable atmosphere, friendly service, picking the right locations, not over-saturating the market. After we left I think they opened too many [Boston Markets] too quickly.
Q. Do you have a favorite item on SlowBones’ new menu?
A. The brisket. I like the chopped brisket with the horseradish cream sauce.
Interview was condensed and edited. Steph Hiltz can be reached at stephanie.hiltz@