Bye, bye burrito 'Baby'

Wilton’s beloved Burrito Shack closed doors for good on Wednesday, Dec. 31, in a move that may be a metaphor for warnings recently laid out by the Economic Development Commission.

The Shack will be moving north, says its owner, Johnny Wilson (aka Johnny Baby), to a new place on Route 25 in Newtown.

The move comes weeks after the commission warned such decisions may become common as retail businesses leave Wilton’s commercial properties for areas with lower rent.

Mr. Wilson’s business, a nine-year staple of the Route 7 drag, was known best by the hand-painted A-frame signs that lured customers with a keen sense of humor.

Utilizing only a thin online presence, he shunned social media marketing for roadside signs bearing mottos like “We roll our own” and “Is that a burrito in your pocket?”

But confronted by increased town scrutiny of his signage, and rising rent prices, “Johnny Baby” has been forced to leave the area where both he and his business grew up.

Though the decision to move for Mr. Wilson was both economical and emotional, the Shack’s owner said the largest impetus to leave was rising rent.

“I’m taking over the Swanky Franks building in Newtown. It’s twice the size, has indoor seating for 35 people, and a big parking lot. Plus, I’m still on a main road, but I also have a stoplight.

“Even with all of that, the rent is $900 cheaper” per month, he said.

Until Wednesday, the Burrito Shack occupied a tiny lean-to of a restaurant on the Georgetown side of Route 7, and was best known for its pulled pork burritos and a hot sauce challenge only 10% of challengers could complete.

He also ran a catering business out of the location, and often catered more than 20 pig roasts in a single summer.

Though he believes his new location will lead to new success, he had serious concerns about leaving the area where he grew up, Weston, and where he lives today, Wilton. In many ways, he feels he’s put “everything” into the drive-in featuring specialty Mexican-American food.

“I’ve had the Burrito Shack for nine years, and I thought I could be here for another nine,” Mr. Wilson said, holding back tears. “Some of my customers have become my best friends. This place has become my baby. It sucks big-time.”

Mr. Wilson, who previously ran a catering business out of the old Georgetown Saloon, said Wilton’s regulations have made it difficult for him to prosper at his old location.

Between the sudden enforcement of rules that prohibited his well-known roadside signs and his inability to use a neon “open” sign, “people thought we were closed, or had closed down for good,” he said.

“I’m already in a tough spot, because this is a pretty dead part of Route 7,” he said.

Though he looked into retail space available in Wilton Center, Mr. Wilson said, he barely even considered the area, as he relies mostly on non-residents for business, like tradesmen and commuters who would “never” pull off Route 7 to eat.

“Signage is a big thing down there, the rent is too high, and the parking is so crazy. I need to be on a highly visible road, too,” Mr. Wilson said.

On Route 25 in Newtown, Mr. Wilson will have an expanded menu, but the ethos of his restaurant will remain the same.

“My passion is cooking and making everybody happy. If I’m doing something for 100 people, and there’s even one person that’s unhappy, I want to know what I did wrong so next time it will be perfect.”

Mr. Wilson says he will continue to operate his pig roast catering business in the Wilton area.