Before December 2018, Ingrid Aho a 2017 graduate of ConVal Regional High School was known for her pipes, singing in musical theater and choirs. After she graduated she thought about getting serious about her singing or going to college for music, but then life happened. Or more specifically, burritos happened. Just over four months ago, Aho took over management of Cafe De Olla, rebranded as De Olla Burritos. The Business Journal spoke to Aho about her new journey.
You’re only 20 years old! How did you find yourself as the manager of a burrito joint in Peterborough?
I was born and raised in Peterborough and I now live in Sharon. I’m definitely a local. When I was 16, I started working here part-time for Will Baker. I slowly worked my way up, taking on more hours and then eventually, to full time. I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. Last year, I was running their second location in Newport. That’s when I really took on more of the business. I worked my way into management. This past fall, Will was moving out of the area and on to new projects and was looking for somebody to take over the Peterborough location.
I happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Did you ever imagine this is where you would end up at 20 years old?
In high school, I was on track to go to college. I still love and am involved in music and arts. That’s the path I was thinking I would take. That’s not the way it worked out, though. I ended up getting opportunities that took me in different directions. Will and I worked out a kind of franchise sort of deal to take over this location and four months later, here I am.
What’s it like being the boss?
I have three employees, full-time and part-time, but most of the time I am here from open to close. It’s definitely a new level of responsibility I am maneuvering my way through and figuring out. Managing inventory is fully on me now. I don’t want to over-order and have too much product going to waste. And I don’t want to under-order. You always have to be prepared. I am definitely learning as I go. Fortunately, I was able to gradually move into that aspect by working in Newport, slowly taking on responsibilities so I didn’t feel completely unprepared getting into this.
What’s it like being a businesswoman in the town you grew up in?
I love Peterborough! When I was working in Newport, I knew I was coming back to Peterborough. This is the job I was going to do.
I wanted to feel like I was growing in the industry. It just so happened the opportunity happened where I grew up, but I definitely feel more comfortable here because it’s where I’m from.
How’s the reception been to you taking over the business?
Business is going very well; we had the busiest winter we’ve ever had. We just keep getting busier. I have a really large family and friends from ConVal, a lot of different connections in the area and people are coming out to support me. But I was pretty surprised the (number) of people from the community showing up to support a young business owner and saying “We are so impressed by what you are doing here.” I have felt a lot of support from the community. And we have a very large group of regulars who are in here quite frequently, so it’s really rewarding to see them come in, enjoy the food and come back saying “Keep up what you’re doing. You’re doing an awesome job.” When someone is working that hard and putting in that kind of effort, it’s very rewarding to hear that from people.
Do you have grand designs for the place now that you are in charge?
I don’t want to change too much. I want to honor the original concept of the restaurant, maybe tweak it here and there and try out some new ideas. But it’s not broken, so it doesn’t need fixing. And I want to keep the regulars happy by keeping the original tastes and design. We have a huge “Meato Extremo” crowd, a lot of guys working and coming on in their lunch breaks. That burrito has bacon, pork, ground beef and steak. It’s pretty serious. Our No. 1, “Burrito De Casa,” is the classic chicken and black bean. That’s a staple. We have a following for each burrito. People come in and they stick to their favorite.
As a young business person, are there challenges that are specific to you?
One of the challenges is that people are a little bit more skeptical. They ask “How did you happen to get into this position?” and “Are you able to handle this much responsibility?” or “Do you have enough experience for this?” But if you channel that correctly, it’s a huge motivational factor and you want to prove them wrong and prove to yourself that you are able to handle this and accomplish something big like this. Fortunately, Peterborough is very supportive. The future is wide open. I spent the winter settling in and figuring out a routine. This summer there will be lots of opportunities and room to grow. T