Have We Reached Peak Burrito?
Years ago, working in a different industry in the Minneapolis suburbs, some friends and I had a standing meeting to get together for burritos. Between Chipotle, Baja Sol, Salsarita’s, Pancheros, Qdoba and a few local places, our goal was determining what was the very best burrito place. It was clear then, and even clearer now, that we were living on the cusp of Peak Burrito.
Like Peak Oil (then again, gas sure is cheap), Peak Burrito means that society’s appetite for burritos precisely matches the current number of companies building new burrito-centric restaurants. These sour cream and guacamole-dipped good times cannot go on forever, can they?
Chipotle has been the envy of every business owner for the last 20 years or so—nothing’s changed there. Pancheros is still expanding. El Pollo Loco got a lot of press with its IPO pop, yet its share price has now suffered with the rest of ‘em. Even Qdoba’s same-store sales are up.
I like Chipotle, and they clearly remain the champs of the category, but I truly loved Salsarita’s because it was different from the herd. Shout-out to the Enchilada Burrito and free guacamole!
Salsarita’s struggled mightily through the recession, and disappeared from some of my favorite spots. I thought it was surely a goner, and evidence that Peak Burrito was upon us. Alas, I was wrong. I just spoke with the new owner of Salsarita's, Phil Friedman, who assured me we have yet to reach Peak Burrito as his chain and others continue to grow.
Burger chains and pizza joints, always proliferating like rabbits, were his primary evidence that the Mexican fast casual category is wide and deep, and open to any players with proper differentiation and smart operations.
We may be living at the brink of Peak Burrito, but with Americans still craving them at a record clip, it may take a recession to thin the herd. I vow to keep my eyes and stomach on the job to figure out if Peak Burrito exists and, if so, when we might cross this terrifying juncture. Or have we already?
Eat up while times are good!