Industry News | June 10, 2010

With New Prototype, Qdoba Sets Its Pace

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Qdoba may have grown to include more than 500 stores in 15 years, but the burrito chain isn’t just getting comfortable with its existing model as it pushes forward with strategic growth.

In fact, the company is already rolling out a new store prototype, an upgrade that follows the menu shakeup Qdoba launched in January with its Craft 2 option of smaller portion sizes.

Ted Stoner, director of strategic product development at Qdoba, says the new prototype store, designed by WD Partners, follows a lot of research the company did to figure out how to stay relevant with its core consumers.

“As a chain you’re always trying to reevaluate yourself and how relevant you are with the consumer and the guest, and we really realized that we needed to update things and get a warmer feel,” Stoner says as he tours one of the new prototype stores, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

“We really needed to elevate the dining room to match the food a little better.”

To see the changes Qdoba made with its new prototype store, watch here as Stoner gives a tour of the Chicago location.

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“This dining room helps to kind of make it a little bit more comfortable, get more of an emotional tie with the guests, let them know who Qdoba is and what we’re all about,” Stoner says.

Stoner says the company felt that the previous Qdoba interior may have been “a little too sterile.”

“We wanted to warm it up, but we also said, ‘You know what, our guests will appreciate a quieter—not necessarily less trendy—but more of a warm feeling than the ultra-trendy places with music blaring at you.’”

Stoner’s tongue-in-cheek reference to Qdoba’s main competitor, Chipotle, shows how the company is separating itself from the burrito pack. He says Qdoba is providing for the needs of its own demographic, which he says skews older than Chipotle’s and does not demand the hippest environment.

“The challenge of being [really] trendy is it dates faster,” he says. “It’s one of those things where you want to be really trendy, but three years later, you’ve got to look at yourself and see if that’s still what the guest wants.”

One thing Qdoba’s guests have wanted, Stoner says, is smaller portion sizes and more variety. In January, the chain rolled out the Craft 2 menu, which allows customers to order two smaller-sized entrees for $5.99.

Available on the Craft 2 menu are the Naked Burrito, Naked Taco Salad, quesadilla, tortilla soup, Mexican Gumbo, three-cheese nachos, and two taco options.

Ultimately, Stoner says the prototype and menu changes at Qdoba—as well as changes to roll out in the future—are coming into fruition only when the chain finds that the time is right.

“[We wanted to] say, ‘Okay, how do we make sure Qdoba is always going forward in the right direction at the right pace?’” Stoner says.

“Of course, you don’t want to outpace your consumer either. You don’t want to become something that’s not believable.”

By Sam Oches