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Mayor Touts Small Biz Programs at il Panino in Jackson Square

Domino’s Pizza can sell two pies for $10. A neighborhood shop like Il Panino Cafe & Grill can’t match that economy of scale.

“Small business is always under attack,” said Lakis Vlahoulis, owner of the 268 Centre St. restaurant known for its calzones and thin-crust pizza. “We can’t compete.”

Vlahoulis and other Jamaica Plain entrepreneurs were on hand Tuesday as Mayor Marty Walsh visited the Jackson Square eatery to announce increased funding for city programs that help small businesses hold their own. Specifically, the Department of Neighborhood Development’s Office of Business Development will double the budget to $250,000 for several such programs. Among them is a “One-on-One Small Business Assistance” program and adding more sessions of their social media class for small business.

Jamaica Plain entrepreneurs were the stars of the show during the mayor’s visit. Vlahoulis, who has lived in JP more than three decades, gave an impassioned speech about how helpful the city had been in Il Panino getting their beer license and cutting through other red tape.

“It was fast and painless,” Vlahoulis said to about 40 people gathered in his restaurant.

The Greek immigrant’s citation of Domino’s is no idle mention — the chain has repeatedly made moves in to Jamaica Plain, only to withdraw.

While the city has a reputation for bewildering bureaucracy, it actually scored well in a recent survey by the U.S Chamber of Commerce Foundation of the environment for small businesses. Walsh has made easing the level of difficulty for entrepreneurs a key talking point in his early months as mayor.

Also taking the mic during the mayor’s visit was Victoria Amador, co-founder of the rapidly-growing Tremendous Maid and Boston’s Best Commercial Cleaning. She described how help from the city programs as well as the JP Neighborhood Development Corp. allowed her business to grow from seven employees to 26 in the two years since it moved to Jackson Square. The business, previously based in Canton, was attracted to JP in part because of the subway.

“We used to see the sky as the limit,” Amador said, “now we see the universe as the limit.”

Robert Thompson of Roxbury
Robert Thompson of Roxbury

Of course, no city program can replace a great product. And that is what il Panino regular Robert Thompson, a retired Boston cop, said the Jackson Square restaurant has. He says il Panino’s thin-crust pie is the best in the city.

“My wife and I used to go to Doyle’s,” Thompson said after the city officials had mostly cleared out of the restaurant. “Now we don’t have to go as far, and the food is better.”

Businesspeople can find out more about Office of Business Development programs at this link. Jamaica Plain is also served by three Main Streets organizations, which help local businesses access public and private resources: Hyde-Jackson Main Street, Centre/South Main Streets and Egleston Square Main Street.