I Coulda Been a Contender — The Catchphrase of the ‘Next Chipotle’

The hunt for the ‘next Chipotle’ is well documented (I got 21,500,000 results from a Google search). 
And why shouldn’t restaurants aspire to attain that status? Chipotle tapped into the zeitgeist with a fast-casual model emphasizing freshness, quality, customizability, and the mantra ‘food with integrity.’ It’s a company that does good with enlightened employment practices and a commitment to sourcing humanely and sustainably-raised products. And it’s a company that does well–$1,000 invested in the company 10 years ago would now be worth more than $15 million. Crazy but true.

Thanks to Starbucks and Chipotle, customization is the new standard.  
Today’s restaurant customers expect to control portion size and toppings, bowl or bun. They need gluten-free and vegan choices, optional toppings and drizzles, and a specific number of pumps of caramel in their lattés. Even old line fast food is jumping on the customization bandwagon as McDonald’s experiments with a build-your-own-burger menu and Pizza Hut rolls out a pizza builder. The ‘next Chipotle’ will undoubtedly follow suit.

It can’t just be about the food.  
A meal at Chipotle is solid but unspectacular. What’s truly masterful is the way the company combines an unremarkable product with a socially conscious business model to forge a connection between the brand and its audience. The ‘next Chipotle’ would be well advised to seek a similarly integrated approach to cause marketing.

Here are the contenders, the startups, and the up-and-comers. Industry watchers believe that the ‘next Chipotle’ could be lurking in this list. 

BuffaloBowl
The healthier options:
Protein Bar is all about being the healthy alternative. The menu is paleo-friendly and has never met a superfood that it couldn’t wrap in a whole wheat and flax seed tortilla. Kale, quinoa, Greek yogurt, and agave all appear in the signature Protein Bar-ritos; add an avocado and green tea smoothie and you’re still safely below the typical Chipotle calorie count. Even more austere is the meat-, dairy, egg-free Veggie Grill. They call it a ‘veggie positive’ experience. The company is on an expansion tear but has yet to prove that the format can succeed away from the west coast.

lyfe-kitchen-officeThe pedigree:
LYFE Kitchen covers all the bases with its ambitions. It was founded by an alumni group of McDonald’s senior executives with a menu created by a pair of celebrity chefs. Their motto is ‘Something for everyone, from carnivores to vegans’, and indeed every contemporary food trend is represented: there’s pizza, pasta, barbecue, fish tacos, a grass-fed burger, Thai curry, and a quinoa bowl. There’s a genuine commitment to mindful, principled business practices that comes through in every choice from sourcing local ingredients to LEED certified restaurant construction and living herb walls.

Piada

The buzz:

Piada is getting a lot of love from insiders winning a slew of industry awards for its concept and branding. It’s also caught the eye of an investment partner with a history of picking winners like PF Changs and Restoration Hardware. The menu looks like an Italian-accented Chipotle with flatbread wraps standing in for burritos and follows the same formula of a simple menu with a few, freshly-made-to-order entreés.

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The lifestyle brand:

If the secret sauce is building a connection with the public, then Sweetgreen will rise to the top of the fast casual heap. The chain sells make-your-own bowls of grains and salads, and while the food gets high marks, nothing’s on the menu that doesn’t align with the founders’ values and forward their agenda. That means every element is hip and wholesome; it has to be sustainable, healthy, based in authentic relationships, and it has to make a positive difference in the community. They’ve already won the hearts of Silicon Valley tech investors who are facilitating coast-to-coast expansion.

The heir apparent:

ShopHouse is Chipotle’s Asian spin-off. It’s got the familiar production line with fresh, local, mostly organic ingredients, and naturally raised meats, but this time they’re going into noodle bowls and Vietnamese sandwiches. ShopHouse also gets to rub shoulders with the parent company’s brand equity and ‘food with integrity’ ethos, and to piggyback on existing supplier relations and cross-promotional marketing. Could Chipotle be the ‘next Chipotle’? Who better to duplicate its success?

shophouse-logo

 

One Response to I Coulda Been a Contender — The Catchphrase of the ‘Next Chipotle’

  1. Bev says:

    I like this piece.

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