"We were the first to use colored tortillas," says Will Weisman, one of the company's founding quartet. He and co-founder Keith Cox met at UC Santa Barbara; once they'd graduated and moved to the city, they hooked up with UC San Diego alumni Matthew Blair and Eduardo Rallo-Verdugo. The group wanted to go into business together, and had taken favorable notice of California Pizza Kitchen's world-on-a-crust success. Why not give a similar multicultural treatment to the burrito? Their market research showed that younger, well-educated consumers were interested in healthy, low-fat, and multicultural cooking and had little time to cook for themselves.
"We tried to position ourselves at the intersection of these trends," Weisman says.
The four launched their business in a small shop on Chestnut Street in February 1995, with culinary direction supplied by Aaron Noveshen, who came from Alain Rondelli. Noveshen's menu includes traditional burritos of grilled steak and chicken, but emphasizes the global choices: wraps filled with mu shu vegetables; salmon with cucumber, wasabi, and soy (a bit like a huge sushi roll); paella; and curried vegetables.
These days there are eight World Wrapps shops -- two in the city, three in the suburbs, three in greater Seattle -- with another coming in Corte Madera. The group has scouted a location in the Castro but has run into some resistance from neighborhood groups who fear the fast-food situation there is already out of control.
"There's a lot of support for the concept of World Wrapps in the neighborhood," Weisman says, "but also concern about fast food. One compromise we're considering is a World Wrapps with full table service."
Weisman foresees the possibility that, beyond the Castro snag, the company will "grow nationally," but he doesn't want World Wrapps to lose its origins as a socially conscious business that pays particular attention to the needs of children and at-risk youth. The company's corporate culture has been much influenced by such enterprises as Ben & Jerry's and Noah's Bagels, and the World Wrappers, says Weisman, have tried to "[create] an environment that we'd like to work in, provide health benefits to employees, and be active in the communities where we operate."
Not bad for a gang of four whose oldest member just turned 30.
By Paul Reidinger