Chipotle has been the great fast-food success story of the past 10 years, and the team behind it is ready to unleash its next concept upon the world. The restaurant is called “ShopHouse,” and a single location has been opened near Slate’s Dupont Circle office, so we’re all very familiar with it. Initially, the idea seemed to be to do a banh mi place. But over time the concept has pivoted to a focus on rice and noodle bowls, and it works much better. For whatever reason they were never really able to get good bread, and ultimately a sandwich stands or falls on its bread. The rice and noodles are fine, though, and the meat and vegetable toppings that are the core of the experience are excellent.
But the real point is that they’re finally ready to expand beyond the one test location. Currently the ShopHouse website promises three new locations “coming soon,” one in Georgetown and then, on the West Coast, one in Santa Monica and one in Hollywood. But ShopHouse has also signed leases in D.C. Chinatown, in the suburbs in Bethesda, Md., and in Westwood Village. Clearly head chef Nate Appleman feels he’s nailed the flavors down, and the company is ready to go into a fairly aggressive expansion move.
Chipotle posted very strong profits last quarter, but growth was overwhelmingly driven by opening new restaurants rather than growing sales at comparable ones. To further grow comparable store Chipotle sales, you’d probably need more menu items, which would ruin the simplicity of the whole operation. So rather than expand Chipotle’s portfolio of offerings, they’re going to add a whole different restaurant with a similarly simple—but quite different in flavor profile—menu.