Calgarians love Mexican food. With a vibrant food scene and a diverse population, Calgary would seem like an ideal place for major Mexican chains like Chipotle to expand.
So is Chipotle planning to open locations in Calgary?
While Chipotle has hinted at Canadian expansion, the company has not yet confirmed specific plans for Calgary. However, there are good reasons to believe the popular fast-casual chain could be coming soon.
The Appeal of Chipotle
Chipotle Mexican Grill has seen tremendous success in the United States with over 2,500 locations across the country. Founded in 1993, Chipotle has become known for its fresh ingredients, customizable entrees, and commitment to food with integrity.
Here are some of the key reasons why Chipotle is so popular:
- High-quality ingredients – Chipotle uses responsibly raised meats, organic produce, and dairy from cows not treated with rBGH hormones.
- Customization – Patrons can customize entrees with different proteins, salsas, toppings, and sides.
- Speed – The assembly line format allows customers to get fresh food fast.
- Reasonable prices – With entrees costing $7-$10 on average, Chipotle offers value for the quality.
- Ambiance – The restaurants feature an inviting, casual atmosphere.
For many, Chipotle has become a go-to spot for a quick, delicious, and relatively affordable Mexican-inspired meal. It’s no surprise they have grown so rapidly and developed a loyal customer base.
The Growth of Chipotle in Canada
While highly successful in the US, Chipotle has been slower to expand into the Canadian market. Currently, there are only about 30 Chipotle locations in all of Canada.
However, growth north of the border is starting to pick up. In 2021, Chipotle opened its first restaurant in Ottawa. The company hinted that more Canadian locations could be on the horizon, though no timeline has been set.
So far, Ontario seems to be the main focus of Chipotle’s Canadian expansion plans. They have concentrated primarily on larger urban areas like Toronto and Ottawa.
But if their US success is any indication, it’s probably only a matter of time before Chipotle starts targeting other major metro areas in Canada. Calgary, as the third largest city in the country, would be a logical choice.
Is Calgary a Good Fit for Chipotle?
There are several reasons why Calgary could make an excellent location for Chipotle’s further expansion into Canada:
Diverse, Growing Population
With 1.3 million residents, Calgary is Canada’s third largest city. Like the rest of the country, Calgary has a culturally diverse population, with over 30% of residents being foreign-born. There is a significant Hispanic/Latino community, which could be drawn to Chipotle’s Mexican-inspired fare.
The metropolitan area continues to grow as well. Calgary’s population increased over 15% between 2011 and 2021 census counts. More people means more demand for convenient, quick-service restaurants like Chipotle.
Booming Food Scene
Calgary has seen its food scene blossom over the past decade. The city is home to a wide array of independent restaurants and several popular food trends. This reflects Calgarians’ appreciation for new culinary experiences.
Chain restaurants have found success here too. For example, Moxie’s, Brown’s Social House, JOEY Restaurants, and The Cheesecake Factory have all opened locations in Calgary in recent years. Chipotle would fit right in.
Calgary’s population skews on the younger side compared to other major Canadian cities. The median age is about 36.5 years old. Millennials make up the largest share of Calgary’s population.
Younger consumers tend to favor fast casual dining options like Chipotle. The ability to customize orders and the focus on quality ingredients resonate with this demographic.
Corporate Lunch Crowd
With a significant concentration of oil and gas companies headquartered here, downtown Calgary has a sizable corporate lunch crowd. Chipotle could attract busy office workers looking for something quick and more wholesome than the usual burgers, pizza, and sandwiches.
Though not as big a destination as Vancouver or Toronto, Calgary does receive several million visitors per year. Many come for conventions and conferences at facilities like the BMO Centre. With a location downtown or near hotels, Chipotle could draw tourist dollars.
The city will also host the Winter Olympics in 2026, providing an opportunity to introduce the brand to an international audience.
Possible Calgary Locations for Chipotle
Given the above factors, Chipotle entering the Calgary market seems like a strong possibility. While nothing official has been confirmed yet, we can speculate about where the chain might open their first Calgary outposts.
Some likely target areas include:
- Downtown Calgary – Opening near major office towers and hotels could attract white-collar workers on their lunch break or travelers looking for a quick bite.
- Beltline – This inner-city neighborhood is home to young professionals and many new condo developments.
- University District – There are several universities and colleges clustered together in this northwest area of Calgary. Students would help drive business.
- Signal Hill – A more suburban location close to shopping centers could appeal to families.
- Deerfoot Meadows – Situated near the Deerfoot Trail, this retail hub draws plenty of shoppers that Chipotle could intercept.
For its first foray into the city, Chipotle will likely seek a high-traffic location with appealing demographics. Expanding further across the city could follow if the concept proves successful here.
Challenges Facing Chipotle in Calgary
Though Calgary seems primed for Chipotle’s arrival, expanding there would have its challenges too:
Low Brand Recognition
While ubiquitous in the US, Chipotle does not have the same name recognition or loyalty yet in Canada. They will need to build local awareness with savvy marketing.
The Mexican fast casual space is more crowded here. Popular local chains like Mucho Burrito and Quesada already have a head start in Calgary. Chipotle must win over customers.
High Rental Rates
Thanks to the surge in oil prices, Calgary’s commercial real estate is recovering. But prime retail spaces come at a premium cost – a factor in site selection.
Like all food service businesses, staffing has been a challenge coming out of the pandemic. Chipotle will need to offer solid compensation to build its employee roster.
Supply Chain Disruptions
Getting the right ingredients to Calgary stores could be hampered by lingering supply chain issues affecting many industries. Chipotle prides itself on food quality and consistency.
The Outlook for Chipotle Coming to Calgary
There are good reasons to be optimistic that Chipotle will choose Calgary for its next round of Canadian expansion:
- Calgary meets many criteria Chipotle looks for in a market – metropolitan area with a strong corporate presence and median age under 40.
- The city’s demographics and dining trends fit well with the Chipotle concept.
- Years of rapid growth before the pandemic and high oil prices again put Calgary on solid economic footing.
- With only one Chipotle currently in Alberta, Calgary would give them a foothold in Canada’s energy capital.
- Proximity to Banff and Lake Louise resort towns allows for expansion into tourist areas.
However, Chipotle also has not made firm commitments or offered a timeline for adding more Canadian locations. Calgary will have to compete with other major markets like Ottawa, Quebec City, Winnipeg and Halifax which are also still without a Chipotle.
But if current growth plans remain on track, expect to see that familiar Chipotle logo popping up on a Calgary street corner sooner rather than later. The company likely recognizes the strong potential here. Now it’s just a matter of securing the right franchise partners and locations.
The Potential Impact of Chipotle coming to Calgary
What would it mean for Calgary if Chipotle finally decides to expand into the market? Here are some possible effects:
More Dining Options
Calgarians would gain access to another popular fast casual restaurant chain. More choice is generally welcome news for consumers.
Existing Mexican eateries like Mucho Burrito and Quesada Burritos would face tougher competition for customers. This could prompt improvements in quality, service, or price from rivals.
Each new Chipotle location would generate about 25-35 permanent food service jobs, mostly front-line team members. Total hiring could range from 75 to 150 depending on number of stores.
Chipotle prefers standalone locations with drive-thru capacity. Sites that meet criteria could see renewed developer interest.
Property Tax Revenues
With municipal budgets strained, additional tax income from a growing chain like Chipotle would benefit the city.
Some visitors familiar with the brand in the US may choose to dine at a Chipotle location while in Calgary.
On the whole, Chipotle landing in Calgary looks to be a win for consumers through greater choices and convenience. For the city, it represents potential economic gains through job creation, property development, and taxes.
Any new competition could negatively impact smaller independent eateries. However, these establishments can retain an audience by focusing on unique offerings tailored to local tastes.
Predicting the Calgary Menu
Since Chipotle menus are relatively consistent across locations, we can predict what might be on a Calgary menu by looking at offerings in the US or Ontario:
Chicken, steak, carnitas (pork), barbacoa (shredded beef), vegetarian/vegan options like sofritas.
Beans (pinto or black), rice (white or brown), salad.
Salsas, guacamole, cheese, lettuce, sour cream.
Fountain drinks, bottled water.
Potential menu differences:
- Local Alberta beef could be featured
- Some salsa variations or limited time offers unique to the region.
- Plant-based protein with Canadian pulse crops like peas or lentils.
Otherwise, the mix of tacos, burrito bowls, salads, and sides should align closely with existing Chipotle locations. Of course, menu items and ingredients are subject to availability.
How Soon Could Chipotle Come to Calgary?
There are a few reasons why Chipotle may choose Calgary for expansion in the near future:
Pent-up demand – Many Calgarians are already familiar with Chipotle from US visits. Locals regularly request a Calgary outlet on the chain’s social media.
Timing – With the pandemic recovery underway, restaurant chains are looking to grow again. Calgary’s economy is rebounding too.
Infrastructure – Chipotle has expanded its digital ordering capabilities for pickup and delivery. These services are essential for the brand.
Real estate availability – Vacancy rates have risen in Calgary’s office and retail sectors. Chipotle can likely negotiate good lease rates for prime locations.
World stage – Hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics puts Calgary in the global spotlight. Chipotle may want representation.
Competitive pressures – Rival Mucho Burrito continues expanding nationwide. Chipotle may accelerate plans to defend market share.
With the above factors, Chipotle landing in Calgary sometime in 2023 or 2024 seems like a reasonable estimate. However, supply chain issues or product availability could alter the timeline.
Much depends on whether Chipotle views Calgary as the next logical growth market in Canada. But the potential for success here should motivate them to add The Stampede City to their map sooner than later.
In summary, Chipotle expanding into the Calgary restaurant scene appears an inevitability. When exactly that will happen remains unclear. But the city’s demographics, economy, and growing food culture align well with the brand. Plus, years of customer requests signal pent-up demand for Chipotle to finally come north.
The fast casual Mexican grill sector is already crowded in Calgary. Yet a compelling location and product should enable Chipotle to carve out a following. Their track record across Canada and the US also demonstrates broad appeal.
For hungry Calgarians, having another quality dining option is always welcome news. Chipotle will face pressure to live up to expectations. But the chain seems poised to thrive in this market when they do decide the time is right.
So while concrete plans or timelines are still uncertain, Chipotle lovers in Calgary can remain hopeful that burritos and bowls are on the horizon. The brand’s arrival would underscore this city’s emergence as a major culinary destination.