Moe’s Beats Chipotle as America’s Favorite Mexican Chain


Moe’s Southwest Grill has toppled Chipotle to become America’s favorite Mexican-inspired fast casual restaurant chain, according to a new poll.

Moe’s, which got its start in Atlanta in 2000 and now has more than 600 locations worldwide, is reaping significant benefits from Chipotle’s downturn. The chain has been named “brand of the year” in the Harris Poll’s category of fast-casual Mexican restaurants, beating Chipotle, which took the top prize for the last three years but failed to even make the top four in 2016.

The Harris Poll ranked this year’s brands based on more than 97,000 responses from United States customers, and Moe’s was praised for its willingness to listen and respond to diner feedback and needs. “We really view the competition as share of stomach,” Moe’s president Bruce Schroder said previously. Moe’s is part of Focus Brands Inc., which operates chains such as Carvel, Cinnabon, and Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, among others.

Chipotle a 1,900-unit Mexican Grill chain based in Denver has been beset by a number of food-borne illnesses in the last year. This includes a norovirus outbreak that sickened 386 customers, a salmonella incident that sickened 64 people and e. coli episodes in 11 states that sickened 60 people.

As a result, sales have decline 30 percent and the company’s shares have dipped 33 percent, to $411.14, in early Friday trading.

On February 8, 2016 when Chipotle closed all of its restaurants for a food safety self-check, Moe’s took out a full-page ad in USA Today to emphasize its openness.

For Moe’s the first place finish in the Harris poll was its first. Moe’s showed the largest increase in brand equity (13 percent) among all restaurants measured, and demonstrates one of the largest equity increases across all brands assessed, which is significant given the tendency for equity to resist rapid movement.

If getting knocked out of the top position wasn’t bad enough for Chipotle executives, then the names of the chains that Americans love more than Chipotle should give them pause: Taco Bell finished second in the poll, with Qdoba Mexican Grill coming in third, and Baja Fresh Mexican Grill coming in fourth.

Taco Bell is owned by Yum! Brands, an international company that also operates Pizza Huts and KFCs. Qdoba is a subsidiary of Jack in the Box. And while Baja Fresh was once controlled by Wendy’s, it was sold a decade ago to a group of investors who also run the Sweet Factory.