Is a 'mini Chipotle' coming to your town?

Chipotle wants to add thousands more stores in the US, and many could be 'mini Chipotles' – much smaller establishments that focus primarily on takeout. If Chipotle goes small, other chains may soon follow.  

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/File
The sign of a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in Redlands, Calif. Chipotle's expansion plans include thousands of smaller restaurants that focus primarily on takeout.

Chipotle has ambitious plans to expand in the US, and they may involve much, much smaller versions of the chain millions can’t get enough of. 

The fast-casual Mexican chain is looking to move beyond its 1,700 restaurants with at least 4,000 more locations, according to Quartz. But that’s just the familiar, sit-down Chipotle restaurants. Chipotle brass believes it can expand even further by way of “mini Chipotles” that focus primarily on takeout.

There’s a lot of financial incentive for Chipotle to go small. The chain started out a decade and a half ago primarily as a sit-down restaurant, but most of its customers no longer eat in. “There are a number of reasons why we think that that is a good idea, one of which is that where as we used to be a mostly a dining restaurant 14 years ago, and I’d say about eight years ago, we were 50/50 dining and take-out. Now we’re about two-thirds takeout,” co-CEO Montgomery Moran said in a July 2014 earnings call with reporters.

Going small is also a much cheaper way to expand, especially as rents in the US and other developed countries soar. According to Quartz, a typical Chipotle costs about $800,000 to get up and running – a smaller store would cost less and have lower operating expenses, but also slimmer profit margins. The company already trying out the concept in Europe, where space is limited and rent and real estate costs are high.

Because this involves Chipotle, it raises the question: is such addition-by-subtraction something to watch for from other chains? In its 14-year existence, Chipotle has quickly come to represent the wave of the future for the restaurant industry. It leaves its competitors in the dust in terms of marketing to the ever-important millennial demographic and innovating friendlier, yet more efficient restaurant management practices. It’s been an industry leader in ethical sourcing of meat, for example, and has won raves for creating a more efficient workforce by retaining employees and promoting from within its ranks.

Chipotle has been so successful over the years, in fact, that investors are actually disappointed in its fourth quarter earnings, even though the company’s profits grew 26 percent last year. Where Chipotle goes, it stands to reason, more restaurant chains will soon follow.

Plus, if the chain wants to continue its successful courtship of young adults, smaller stores make sense. Millennial populations are growing fastest in major urban centers, where real estate is very expensive. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to