The recent rumour-debunking announcement by Chipotle that it had no plans to enter the Quebec market left the burrito-bereft shaken. The absence of the fast casual juggernaut, however, is a potential boon for other Tex-Mex players keen to penetrate la belle province. First there was Quesada, a brazen homage to Chipotle from Toronto that set up shop in the West Island and on McGill University's campus. Quesada's flagship menu item is "The Famous Big Ass Burrito."
Now Mucho Burrito, a "guest obsessed fresh Mexican grill that stimulates the senses", wants to play in the Montreal market too. Brand Vice President John Delutis and Director of Marketing Norm Pickering recently spoke about the fast casual concept and its plans for both the city and province. Here are ten facts you need to know:
1. Mucho Burrito just opened its first store in Montreal. In Complexe Desjardins. Delutis reports that the food court restaurant is "not the traditional expression of [the Mucho Burrito] brand." The typical Mucho Burrito restaurant is closer to 1,800 square feet and more "suburban, street front, with décor and music that provides a total sensory package."
2. Mucho Burrito is part of the behemoth MTY Food Group. The public company, founded by Stanley Ma in 1979 and headquartered in Montreal, franchises and operates a number of other quick-service restaurant brands like Thaï Express, Country Style, Valentine, Vanelli's, Extreme Pita, Cultures, La Crémière, Sushi Shop, Veggirama, Tiki Ming, Au Vieux Duluth Express, FrankxSupreme, ChicknChick, Croissant Plus, Koya Japan, Kim Chi, Panini, Tandori, Tutti Frutti and Sukiyaki. Whoa.
3. Mucho Burrito is poised for growth and Quebec is in play. The franchise-based company has 86 stores in the system now, mostly in Ontario and Alberta. Delutis: "Quebec is an interesting market for a lot of reasons. We have a good presence with MTY — the company is from Quebec. It's a fantastic market for Mucho Burrito. People in Quebec, it's a cultural thing, they like food, they're not going spend money if they don't get value. I think Quebec could be the biggest market for us. We want responsible growth. We want good quality sites with good quality partners. You never 100% know about the franchisee until you open."
4. Downtown Montreal is just the tip of the burrito bowl in Quebec. "We started in Complexe Desjardins because the operator is involved with other MTY restaurants. We have signed deals for Les Galeries de la Capitale in Quebec City, for late May in the Mega Centre on Côte-Vertu in Saint-Laurent and in Lachenaie. You'll probably see three or four other locations by the end of our fiscal year, November 30." The Mucho Burrito website hints that the company will open "5-10 locations [in Quebec] over the next couple of years."
5. Mucho Burrito sure seems Chipotle-like — which is fine with Mucho Burrito. Mucho Burrito slogans — Real Food. Real Causes. Real People. and The Mayans Never Used MSG So Why Should We? — echo Chipotle, whose mission statement is, rather famously, Food with Integrity. "We make it all fresh, on site and we build a warm, comfortable environment around it," says Delutis. "Chipotle is the market leader with over 1,000 stores so the comparison is a complement. But I think we do some things differently."
6. This is where the comparisons end. Director of Marketing Norm Pickering: "We welcome competition. Chipotle did a good job of building awareness around Mexican fast casual. That brings credibility to what we want to do in Canada. People thought we were like Taco Bell at the beginning. Over time they understood what we were about. Chipotle focuses on downtown locations. Mucho Burrito less so. The one thing that's different about us, we really focus on authentic Mexican. Also, Chipotle has a more industrial décor and a less rustic look than Mucho Burrito. We're different too in how we freshly prepare our salsas and guacamole and our different types of proteins. Another important distinction is that it's a growth market here in Canada. In the U.S. it's established."
7. Mucho Burrito is indeed all about burritos. From the company's franchise page: "North America is going ballistic over BURRITOS! They’ve been around for hundreds of years and are now experiencing a revitalization of epic proportions! Burritos are exotic. They’re full of spicy flavor and they’re becoming the fast-food trend of the 21st century." Burritos are "fresh, made-to-order and healthy" and come in "7 core fillings combined with 17 fresh ingredients. Your option of flour, whole wheat tortilla or burrito bowl. Pile it high, and conquer hunger."
8. There's more to Mucho Burrito than burritos, however. The menu also includes tacos, quesadillas, salads and desserts. Pickering: "We also have some different product offerings that we've vetted through consumer research. This includes a line of authentic Mexican food that will come to market when the time is right."
9. The Montreal expansion was prompted, in part, by a belief that the city lacks authentic Mexican food. From Mucho Burrito's newly-minted French blog: "Nous avons bien fait nos devoirs avant d’arriver au Québec et nous avons constaté la frustration des Québécois qui cherchent de la bonne cuisine mexicaine comme le démontrent les commentaires des consommateurs : 'La cuisine mexicaine à Montréal est MAUVAISE, très MAUVAISE. Je ne recommanderais aucun des restaurants qui sont mentionnés.' MTL Blog"
10. The chain has taken a populist approach to court Montrealers. Four words: the Denis Coderre Burrito.