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The power of burritos


The hamburger is safe. Pizza probably doesn’t have to worry. Nevertheless, on the menu of perennially popular food, one offering has been gaining steam against competitors: the burrito.

Thanks to favorable demographics in the U.S. and consumers’ growing demand for the food, the burrito is proving to be a moneymaker for some restaurant chains.

Chipotle, which has 15 Houston-area restaurants, reported its first quarter sales increased to $355 million from $305 million during the same three-month period in 2008. Despite the economic dip, the Denver company with 830 U.S. establishments plans to open more than 120 restaurants this year.

While some restaurant chains are shuttering locations or reporting decreased sales, burrito businesses like Chipotle, Freebirds World Burrito and Bullritos are in expansion mode.

“I certainly think that burritos have taken place alongside hamburgers as iconic food in this country,” said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold. “There’s certainly a lot of reasons for that, demographic changes and broadening of culinary foods, but also the simple convenience of the burrito.”

Freebirds, which has 25 Texas and Oklahoma locations, including six in Houston, plans to open at least six more Texas locations this year.

“It’s a very popular menu item in America,” said Bryan Lockwood, president of Tavistock Restaurants, which owns Freebirds. “It’s probably just behind pizza.”

This is a business-section story, so it’s about expansion and sales figures and whatnot. Which is too bad, because if you’re going to write a story about burritos in Houston, you really ought to mention Mission Burritos, which pre-dates all of these other guys, and in my opinion which makes a better product to boot. Be that as it may, reading this has made me hungry, so if you’ll excuse me for a minute, I’m gonna go get something to eat.

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One Comment

  1. Amy says:

    I think there is an element to the equation that they are missing. Besides the glaring omission of Mission Burrito, you notice they didn’t mention Taco Bell. They certainly sell plenty of burritos, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they aren’t on this burrito sales kick. The places they do mention (and Mission Burrito) offer something I think people are more interested in these days – an affordable meal option made out of good, fresh, identifiable foods. It’s nice to be able to go into a place and have a meal that has on it exactly what I ask for, and which contains foods I can easily identify the ingredients of, and in the case of a lot of these places (including, surprisingly, formerly McDonald’s-owned Chipotle), the promise of many of those ingredients being organic and/or local. People are more interested in that these days, I think. And I just wonder how much that plays a part of, “Dude, cool, burrito.”