Foodservice Equipment Reports

Chipotle’s Asian Foray A Nod To Growing Market

Asian markets are spurring much of U.S. chain growth and in 2011 and beyond, count on Asian concepts to contend for the title “next big thing” here at home. Chipotle Mexican Grill garnered a lot of press earlier this month when the chain said it was exploring an Asian restaurant concept modeled on its “food with integrity” brand. The 1,000-unit Denver-based company has provided few details beyond its intent to open one Asian-inspired restaurant in 2011 using the Chipotle service format in one of the chain’s 40-some markets. “In our minds, we are still very early in our growth cycle,” said founder and CEO Steve Ells. “This Asian restaurant is just an opportunity to see how our model works when we use different ingredients and a different style of food. This restaurant will allow us to a take a look at that.”

The new Chipotle concept will be competing with other Asian fast-casual concepts, such the 168-unit Pei Wei Asian Diner brand, owned by P.F. Chang¹s China Bistro; the 90-unit Pick Up Stix chain, owned by Carlson Restaurants Worldwide; and the 30-unit Flat Top Grill and Stir Crazy brands, owned by Chicago-based Flat Out Crazy.

London-based Wagamama is also making a splash in the U.S. market. The global pan-Asian noodle chain has more than 80 stores in 15 countries, including three branches in Boston. The company expects to open hundreds more of its sit-down, quick-service restaurants along the East Coast, according to news reports.

New York’s Sensēbowl opened the first of six planned locations in midtown Manhattan earlier this month; its founders told Crain’s New York they would like to have 10 stores opened within the next two years.