Chipotle Goes Minimal: Part II

Here’s part ii of my interview with Thaddeus Briner.

Is the new look being rolled out to older restaurants, and what qualifies a store for receiving a new look? (I know one or two in my area could do with a transformation).

Chipotle is currently building only ‘new designs’ from here on out, but we’ve yet to develop a strategy for retrofitting the old ones. I think as more of the older restaurants require more serious maintenance or restoration efforts, we’ll be able to develop a technique for doing this. Obviously it would be difficult to accommodate any serious construction on the stores, so many of them are doing so well, so we’ll need to be very surgical in how we go about it. Based on what we’re doing with the new trade dress, it will need to be more than just surface treatment.

Are there lessons to be learned from this project that other restaurants/chains should consider?

This is the first project like this that I’ve been lucky enough to work on, and has been the biggest one in my young office so far, and I must say it’s been a pretty fun ride. However, the old adage for architects “a good client begets a good project” certainly comes into play here. Chipotle has been very willing to discuss new ideas and challenge themselves  to accommodate a new design which is a big deal, (we’ve made some mistakes along the way, and we’re still getting there). After 17 years, there’s also a comfort level there that is difficult to peel away from understandably.

One thing that happened concurrent to working on our new trade dress design was that Chipotle re-vamped their logo by a company out of San Francisco called Sequence. It was redone by the same guy who did the first one on Evans Street,  and it’s now something more contemporary and more legible, and more readily transferable between different mediums and scales. It was probably helpful to have this roll out sooner than the trade dress, because customers had strong feelings about the old one,  and perhaps it softened them up a bit for what we’re doing. It was hard for a lot of people to let go with the old one,  but now everyone loves it.  

The support from their development crew has been essential, and they have a good, committed team of architects working for them as well, and they all seem ready for a change. Hopefully the new design, although perhaps streamlined in terms of the tools they had before, allows them to still have some fun, which I think is essential to maintain quality going forward.  

I also think what has helped us, and something I’d hope to bring to any other project like this, is to continually think about how the design supports the general principles of the company – and when you get stuck, or things seem to take on a life of their own, try as much as possible to refer back to these and test what you are doing against them. In Chipotle’s case this has been easier than others perhaps: ‘do a few good things and do them well’ is a fantastic inspiration for both us.

Photography: Courtesy of Thaddeus Briner/Architecture Outfit



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