Chipotle’s stealth move into pizza

It could be the biggest Duh! in restaurant history. Entrepreneurs of all stripes and levels of capitalization are jockeying to become the Chipotle of the pizza market.  Why wouldn’t Chipotle make a run at becoming the Chipotle of pies and sauce? Turns out it’s doing exactly that.

The burrito chain issued a statement Wednesday that confirmed reports of a quiet entry into the so-called better pizza market. Since May, it’s been running a pizzeria in Denver in collaboration with local restaurateurs Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson. Chipotle said a search is already underway elsewhere in the city for second and third units of Pizzeria Locale.

The fast-casual concept could be a Chipotle without the rice and beans. Customers move along a prep line, specifying what toppings they want on their pie to a pizza maker on the other side of the glass.

True to the set-up of virtually all better-pizza start-ups, Pizza Locale features a high-temp oven that bakes the pies in a flash. Chipotle said the cook time is less than two minutes.

The concept also hews to the emerging segment’s model for serving wine. Red and white selections will be sold from a tap, eliminating the need for servers to uncork a bottle.

The press release notes that Stuckey is a master sommelier. Business partner Mackinnon-Patterson is a chef. The two collaborated on Fesca Food and Wine.

They make no mystery as to where they drew inspiration for Pizzeria Locale. The press release specified that the concept is a fast-casual reduction of a full-service restaurant in Boulder, Colo., that also operates under the name Pizza Locale.

Confirmation of Chipotle’s venture, apparently triggered by a Denver-area blog post and a story in The Wall Street Journal, is the second announcement this week of an entry into the pizza market by a dominant player in another quick-service segment. A Subway franchisee has disclosed plans to open a pizza version of the sandwich concept on the campus of the University of Nebraska.


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