In Search of ‘the Chipotle of’

If you search Google for “the Chipotle of,” you get 130,000 results. A big chunk of the results turn up pizza chains—no surprise, as Blaze, Pieology, Pizza Rev, Sbarro, 800 Degrees, Uncle Maddio’s and, of course, Pizzeria Locale, all have been called “the Chipotle of pizza.”

Other frequent terms in the search results include Mediterranean (as in Roti Mediterranean Grill), Middle Eastern (Halal Guys, for example) and Italian (Piada, for one). And while scrolling, I saw Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and Pakistani go by. Menu types like burgers, sandwiches, sushi, noodles barbecue and potatoes all have their Chipotle wannabes.

What I was not expecting: The Chipotle of hotels. The Chipotle of jeans. The Chipotle of footwear. The Chipotle of summer movies. The Chipotle of pop songs. The Chipotle of real estate. The Chipotle of churches. What?

To us in the foodservice industry, “the Chipotle of” means something specific: a limited-service assembly-style restaurant with a small menu that customers can customize with different formats, toppings and sauces, and watch as their meal is prepared. Some may expand that definition to include the chain’s knowledgeable and speedy staff, or its ability to manage fast expansion.

Beyond our industry, however, “Chipotle” means different things. A hotel chain and a church relate to Chipotle because the chain conjures integrity and aims to improve the planet. The jeans and footwear sellers noted their ability to customize their products to customers’ exact specifications. A real estate firm compared its team to Chipotle’s, because they each have a specific job that they know well, and they do it with a smile. A pop song and a summer movie each were dubbed “the Chipotle of” because of its being inoffensive, an easy and agreeable choice, and good enough that you don’t feel bad after consuming it. And companies of all stripes want to be “the Chipotle of” by successfully growing sales year after year.

There aren’t many brands that achieve that sort of leadership—to be so well-known for what you do that you become an epitome or something that others aspire to. The Bible, Rolls Royce, Cadillac… These are good names for a restaurant chain to be compared to.

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Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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