Chipotle Mexican Grill has had a tumultuous year between the bouts of food-borne illnesses and plummeting sales, but it has managed to emerge from the mess of E. coli-related issues. But the pile-on continues as other chains take advantage of the shifting fast-casual market food and begin to climb past the Denver-based chain in customer ratings.
Moe's Southwest Grill, 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, unseating Chipotle, which took the top prize for the last three years but failed to even make the top four in 2016. This year, Chipotle was bested by Taco Bell, Qdoba Mexican Grill, and Baja Fresh Mexican Grill.
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.
On February 8, 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. Overall, Moe's has seen a 5 percent increase in foot traffic thanks in part to Chipotle's struggles, according to a Placed survey. Chipotle still has some loyalists, however, such as the Washington man who's working toward his goal of eating a meal from the chain 366 days in a row.