Chipotle experienced a challening fourth quarter while facing an expanded criminal probe.
Chipotle might be going into the burger business.

DENVER – Chipotle Mexican Grill filed a trademark application for “Better Burger” on March 11, according to the US Patent and Trademark Office website, hinting at a possible foray into the premium burger segment. Bloomberg reported the trademark application yesterday.

Chipotle already operates ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen and the company is a partner in Pizzeria Locale. ShopHouse offers gluten-free and dairy-free, Asian-inspired fare served in bowls, while Pizzeria Locale specializes in individual-sized pizzas. Chipotle operates 14 ShopHouse restaurants across Los Angeles, Chicago, Maryland and Washington, DC. 

Steven Ells, founder and co-CEO of Chipotle, noted that both concepts resemble Chipotle but with different cuisines. 

Steve Ells, Chipotle
Steve Ells, founder and co-CEO, Chipotle Mexican Grill

“I think they’re both very exciting concepts and while they seem to be very different from Chipotle and from each other, one South East Asian in ShopHouse, the other pizza in Pizzeria Locale — they share a lot of similarities with Chipotle, and that’s by design,” he said at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in 2014.

“The thinking was a number of years ago that Chipotle wasn’t successful because we serve burritos and tacos,” Ells explained, “but … because we source sustainably raised food and we cook that food according to classic cooking techniques and in open kitchens and serve in this interactive format. So people get exactly what they want, not only for taste but for dietary preference.

“But specifically about Pizzeria Locale and ShopHouse, the similarities are in the operating system,” Ells continued. “If you think about size of restaurants, square footage, rent structure, investment costs, number of employees to staff, throughput potential, menu pricing — all these kinds of things are very similar.”

The buzz surrounding the possibility of Chipotle entering the burger space has been mixed. Some analysts covering the restaurant industry note that Chipotle evolved from McDonald’s Corp. Also, timing favors Chipotle in that US Dept. of Agriculture data indicates that prices for beef are falling.