Founder Steve Ells is at work on a new Asian concept, 2009 James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year Nate Appleman is rolling burritos at a Chipotle test kitchen unit in New York and you can get breakfast at the Chipotle’s Dulles airport location in Washington, DC. What exactly does this chain have up its sleeve?
The founder and leaders of Chipotle Mexican Grill aren’t following the well-worn script perfected by other restaurant developers. Most of the lucky few who have grown their chains to 1000-plus units and seen their stock price go through the roof usually cash in their chips and retire to the good life.
Ells has plenty of chips to cash in, but is apparently is more interested in seeing if his company’s “food with integrity” mantra can work in another segment. He’s involved—hands on, by the way—in developing Chipotle’s yet-to-be-named Asian concept. Not much has leaked out about it yet, but Chipotle co-c.e.o. Monty Moran mentioned during a live chat on The Motley Fool web site that “right now, we plan to open one of these (Asian concept) restaurants next year, and we’ll see how it goes.”
What’s the thinking behind the Asian venture?
“The magic of Chipotle is not tied to burritos and tacos,” Moran said. The magic has to do with great food from sustainable sources, great people who offer a genuine and excellent dining experience, and a great restaurant design that provides a comfortable backdrop for that experience. We believe that model can apply to other cuisines. The Asian concept, which will certainly be based on food with integrity, is our way of testing our belief in that idea.”
It’s an idea that appealed mightily to 2007 Restaurant Hospitality Rising Star Nate Appleman, who recently left his post as executive chef at Keith McNally’s Pulino’s Bar & Pizzeria in New York City for a spot at Chipotle’s Chelsea unit in Manhattan, one of the chain’s three test kitchen units. Appleman, who first drew national attention for his renditions of southern Italian cuisine at A16 in San Francisco, blogged about his new job on Zagat.com
“I was hired by Steve Ells to work closely with him to improve Chipotle’s already high culinary standards, and to work with the company’s operations and training teams to help elevate cooking techniques through all of its restaurants. Sounds vague, right? Because it is. I’m not sure what this job of the future will hold, but this is one of the most exciting things I have ever been a part of.”
He’s also looking for a bigger stage. “While I have been very proud of the work I’ve done—whether it was my commitment to butchering and using the entire animal, or supporting responsible farming—I honestly feel that I have made very little impact. With this new job, I’m a part of an organization that can truly make a difference by serving food with integrity to millions of people, as well as supporting numerous farmers and ranchers that are growing vegetables and raising animals the right way. I’m involved in all of that, right down to being part of the 25,000 Chipotle employees that work their asses off to help change food culture as we know it.”
Breakfast at Chipotle would be a culture shift, for sure. Moran told Motley Fool that while the company initially had no real interest in the breakfast daypart, it’s learning to love it.
“We serve breakfast at the Dulles Airport location because the landlord required it to get that space. So we thought it was a good opportunity to test a breakfast menu. So far, we’re pleased with how it’s going.
“We’re keeping it very simple, adding eggs, potatoes and chorizo, and customers seem to like it. We don’t have any plans to expand breakfast at this time, but we do believe it might provide an opportunity for us down the road. What we’re most pleased with is that we’ve been able to keep the breakfast offering so simple that it didn’t require significant changes to labor or operations, and didn’t complicate things for our customers.”
Sounds like it could be a revenue booster to us, at least at many Chipotle locations. The company probably doesn’t need one right now—shares are going for $230 apiece, with a total market capitalization of more than $ 7 billion—but they’ve got it in their pocket if same store sales and/or unit growth ever hit the wall.