California Tortilla announced it is opening a sister concept that it will use primarily for research and development purposes.

The new concept, Burrito Elito, will debut in two airport locations, one each in Boston Logan and Philadelphia airports. Franchisees Patricia Reilly and Dan Koch, who own two California Tortilla airport units, will own the new restaurants.

Bob Phillips, president of California Tortilla, says the sister concept offers the company new opportunities for future growth.

“It gives us the opportunity to position ourselves in the airport market and experiment with some things without having to necessarily roll them out to our entire system,” he says.

Phillips says the Burrito Elito units will mostly be used to test three things: a new menuboard system, environmentally friendly packaging, and a streamlined menu.

He says the menu will maintain core California Tortilla items—as well as a selection of hot sauces from the chain’s popular Wall of Flame—but that the company is interested to find out how a smaller menu will perform.

“It’s very hard to say when you take an item off your menu that it was a key menu item that drove transactions, or if a customer would trade to a different product,” he says. “So we’d like to experiment with streamlining the menu.”

Burrito Elito will also be used to test new menu items, Phillips says, which could later be rolled out to the California Tortilla system.

Phillips says the company did not want to use the California Tortilla name for strategic purposes. The company has a large presence in Philadelphia, for example, and “we just didn’t want to confuse anybody,” he says.

The company’s loyal customers shouldn’t be too confused by Burrito Elito. Not only does the sister concept have similar design patterns and the same logo, it also shares a name with California Tortilla’s popular loyalty program, which has approximately 150,000 members, Phillips says.

“We felt we already had equity in that name, and we thought in the airport, especially in Boston, where our California Tortilla name is not yet known, that having the word burrito in the name could be a significant driver,” he says.

Phillips says there are no plans to convert any California Tortilla units to Burrito Elito, and that the company will wait to see how the first two perform before moving forward with additional units.

By Sam Oches

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Design, Growth, News, California Tortilla