There’s a New Burrito on the Block

Chipotle set to open a new front in the battle for Tex-Mex supremacy

How many burritos stores does Harvard Square need? Chipotle is betting the answer is at least one more.

This January, the national burrito and taco chain will open a new branch in Harvard Square at 1 Brattle St., under Eastern Mountain Sports.

But the several burrito places already doing business in the Square said yesterday they are unfazed by the incoming competition—and their customers say they’ll remain loyal.

Chipotle serves burritos, tacos, and bowls with naturally raised beef, pork, and chicken. Katherine N. Smith, a Chipotle spokeswoman, said the company is excited to set up shop in Harvard Square, even if at least five stores within walking distance are already serving burritos.

“Everybody has a different way of doing it. No one does it quite the way Chipotle does,” she said.

Chipotle will also apply for a liquor license to serve beer and margaritas, which none of the competing eateries have, except Border Cafe.

Unlike most burrito establishments or other fast-food restaurants Chipotle serves meat and produce raised and grown with natural and sustainable practices, Smith said.

Nationally, 100 percent of Chipotle’s pork, 70 percent of its chicken and 50 percent of its beef comes from naturally raised animals. In the Northeast, she added, all of Chipotle’s meats come from naturally raised animals.

John Pepper, the CEO of Boloco—which has been in the Square since 1997, originally as The Wrap—likened the arrival of Chipotle to that of Real Taco about four and a half years ago. He said that now, just as it did before, Boloco will continue with the same business model that has succeeded so far—to the tune of 2.1 million burritos in the past 10 years.

“Boloco is different in that we have a lot more options,” Pepper said. Boloco serves traditional Mexican burritos, as well as offerings more akin to its original name—like teriyaki or Caesar wraps, and smoothies.
 


Felipe’s co-owner Thomas J. Brush said he welcomes the newcomers.

“Competition is good,” he said, adding that Felipe’s is unlike Chipotle, Boloco, or another Square burrito shop, Qdoba, because it is not part of any larger chain. “I think, all things being equal, people would rather come to a local-owned place.”

Founded in 1993, Chipotle received much of its financing for expansion from McDonald’s, but as of October 2006 McDonald’s had completely divested in the chain, according to Smith. The chain now has hundreds of branches across the country.

At Felipe’s, however, “Felipe” himself is a co-owner and often mans the grille himself.

“Felipe is a master,” Brush said. Felipe Herrera came to America from Mexico and began working at Taqueria Mexico in Waltham. He then worked at Boca Grande, a local chain started by a Japanese brother-and-sister duo. When infighting led one sibling to leave Boca Grande, Herrera left with him to be the first cook at Anna’s Taqueria—a branch of which can be found in Porter Square. Herrera left Anna’s five years ago to start his own taqueria with Brush.

Felipe’s also prides itself on its low prices versus its Square competitors, Brush said, adding that he would like to cement his restaurant’s status as a “local hangout.”

Rick R. McKellar ’10, a Felipe’s regular whose favorite offering is a packed Super Burrito, said he will probably try Chipotle once—but “it’d have to be pretty good” for him to abandon Felipe’s.

Lyden Marcelot, assistant manager at Qdoba and a Cambridge native, said he was “indifferent” about the arrival of Chipotle.

“We’re just going to keep serving our fresh food,” he said.

—Staff writer Gabriel J. Daly can be reached at gdaly@fas.harvard.edu.

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