What Could Turn Chipotle Into the Next Breakfast Hotspot?

Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in Charing Cross Road, London, UK

Chipotle Mexican Grill's (CMG) best known for its burritos and its cilantro-spiced rice bowls. So espressos or chorizo with vegetables frittatas may seem out of place there now -- but they may become commonplace in the future.

Chipotle's testing a premium coffee brand that shares its "food with integrity" mantra, and it's also serving breakfast out of one of its airport locations.

Coffee and Carnitas

La Colombe -- a Philadelphia-based brewer that prides itself on direct sourcing -- is Chipotle's coffee brewer of choice. Right now it's being served at the restaurant's Baltimore Washington International Airport. La Colombe CEO Todd Carmichael told Eater that his company is looking to expand the program by introducing espresso drinks and Pure Black, a cold-pressed bottled coffee beverage.

It's easy to see why Chipotle chose La Colombe. They both share a passion for ethical business practices.

La Colombe even has a five-step ethical checklist that includes the popular practice of buying only Fair Trade beans, but also features some leading edge ethical initiatives like giving priority to coffee farmers for long-term commitments in areas where the purchases can make the greatest impacts and demanding that farmers must provide clean drinking water to the families associated with supplier farms.

Breakfast Burritos

That same airport location is also testing a new breakfast menu.

Airports often require their restaurant tenants to be open in the mornings, and that led Chipotle to originally test a breakfast menu at its Dulles International Airport outpost. It eventually scrapped the menu, choosing instead to simply serve its regular lunch and dinner menu during the morning hours.

It's giving breakfast a second shot at the BWI location, offering breakfast burritos, bowls, tacos, and frittatas from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily. One has to wonder if the fast-growing company will eventually roll the offering out to all of its 1,502 restaurants.

A company spokesman told Nation's Restaurant News that Chipotle has no plans to add breakfast throughout its chain anytime soon, but that can always change.

The Morning Challenge

Chipotle has been at it for 20 years with its simple menu. Tweaks are rare. However, there's a lot of business waiting to be had in the mornings.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%McDonald's (MCD) prides itself on its busy morning traffic, and its Egg McMuffin sandwich is nearly as well-known as its flagship Big Mac. It even offers a breakfast burrito -- something that a lot of fast food chains are adding to their early morning offerings.

Why can't Chipotle own the breakfast burrito the way it does the traditional burrito?

One major challenge will naturally be the store layout. Chipotle relishes assembling orders in front of customers. Drive-thru windows are rare at fast-casual restaurants, and that may be a problem since many morning commuters don't to leave their cars to pick up breakfast.

The counter to that argument is that Starbucks (SBUX) has become one of the busiest establishments in the morning part of the day, and it's been able to get there with only some of its restaurants offering drive-thru convenience. If Starbucks can lure customers wanting a high-quality caffeine fix into walking into its store, one can argue that Chipotle represents a similar premium experience in terms of it's brand of edibles.

Wake-Up Call

Chipotle isn't at the point where it needs to milk more out of the operating day. Revenue grew 18 percent in its latest quarter, and it will be several years before Chipotle gets close to saturating the market.

However, there is still something to be said about giving the customers what they want.
The success that McDonald's has had in fleshing out its morning traffic is a good model for Chipotle. Maybe it's time for the burrito roller to set a wake-up alarm.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill, McDonald's, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill, McDonald's, and Starbucks. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.