Emerging Concepts | August 2012 | By Judy Kneiszel

One to Watch: Bullritos

Texas-based brand offers its own take on the Mexican fast-casual category.

Bullritos offers tacos, burritos, and other traditional Mexican food options.
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Bullritos is a quick-serve Tex-Mex concept created by Russell Ybarra, owner of two Houston-based full-service chains, Gringo’s Mexican Kitchen and Jimmy Changas.

The name was inspired by Ybarra’s experience running with the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, Spain. While dining at Bullritos is considerably safer than that annual event, the interactive ordering system and plethora of possible ingredient combinations when creating a burrito make it an adventure in its own right.

When customers walk through the doors at a Bullritos, they grab a red marker and a white bag with menu choices printed on it. They mark their choices, put a name on the bag, and hand it to a Bullritos employee. In less than three minutes, the bag containing the order is handed back to the customer.

When marking the bag, a customer’s first decision is burrito, bowl, or tacos. Next comes a meat choice: chicken fajita, beef steak, carne guisada (a beef stew), pulled pork, or ground beef. Rice is available in cilantro lime or traditional Spanish varieties, and bean choices include charro (made with pinto beans), black, or fat-free refried. All bean choices are vegetarian.

Chile con queso or cheddar and Jack are the cheese selections, and the salsa list includes “Arriba!” red salsa, cilantro ranch, fresh pico de gallo, tomatoes, or habanero-tomatillo. Other possible add-ons include guacamole, roasted corn, jalapeños, peppers and onions, sour cream, and lettuce.

“Ordering is a very quick process with the bag,” says Mark Collins, Bullritos’ senior vice president. “People are not holding up the line trying to decide what they want.”

Bullritos

Founder/President: Russell Ybarra

HQ: La Port, Texas

Year Started: 2008

Annual Sales: Undisclosed

Total Units: 18

Franchise Units: 17

www.bullritos.com

Collins says what sets Bullritos apart from its competition is that “everything is fresh.”

“Our taco meat, queso, beans, rice, pico … you name it, we make it fresh,” he says. “All of our veggies are fresh daily. We never use guacamole or pico made the day before.”

To make the most of the bull theme, the concept’s customer loyalty program is called “The Herd,” and diners are encouraged to take their order and “run with it.”

Bullritos units are located mainly in Texas, with single stores in Georgia, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The company hopes to have around 100 locations in three to five years.

“We started growing in the Houston area, but some of our other growth has simply been in places where franchisees wanted to go,” Collins explains. “One franchisee’s wife was from Georgia, so they decided to move back there and take Bullritos with them, opening a location there.”

For the immediate future, Collins says, Texas and nearby states will continue to be the main target for expansion.

Part of Bullritos’ growth has included expanding the menu beyond burritos, tacos, and bowls. The chain recently introduced dinner plates, which are ordered at the counter and not on a bag. Dinner plates include options like Fajitas, Carne Guisada, Quesadillas, Crispy Tacos, Pulled Pork, and Tamales. Plates are served with rice and beans and are available at both lunch and dinner at all locations.

In addition to plates, some Bullritos locations have also rolled out breakfast. The morning menu includes breakfast tacos, burritos, and quesadillas featuring bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, and chorizo.

“Breakfast is up to the franchisee,” Collins says. “Not all locations are conducive to breakfast, and the franchisee has to want to do it.”

Collins says Bullritos partnered with top brands like Tabasco, Coca-Cola, and Seattle’s Best Coffee, and will continue to do so. “People are time-conscious, but they still want high quality,” he says. “With this economy, fast casual works for families on a budget. You’re not tipping a waiter or buying expensive desserts, but you can still get fresh, quality ingredients and top brands.”

An average per-person ticket at Bullritos is $9–$11, with dinner being on the higher end of that range because most locations serve beer and margaritas. As for nonalcoholic beverages, Bullritos restaurants all have Coca-Cola Freestyle machines.

From burritos to beverages, it seems to be all about choices and combinations at Bullritos, and that attracts a wide range of customers.

“We serve an eclectic group of people,” Collins says. “We cater to families, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers … everyone. The burrito concept as a whole is geared toward the younger generation, but if you come to a Bullritos at lunch, you’ll see high school kids who can leave campus, construction workers, and stay-at-home moms. At dinner we see a lot of families.”

He says that while some burrito concepts have been criticized for having a cold, industrial environment, Bullritos has a warm atmosphere.

“You can be in and out of Bullritos in a hurry or you can take your time, have a beer, and watch sports or business news on TV,” Collins says. “Some locations even offer complimentary soft-serve ice cream to be even more welcoming.”