Chipotle’s plan to take over America starts with being on every corner in Washington DC

Quantum burrito velocity.
Quantum burrito velocity.
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
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It’s Cinco de Mayo today, and the holiday that celebrates Mexico’s unlikely victory over French troops during the Battle of Puebla in 1862 is apparently a bigger deal in the US than it is in Mexico itself. So it is fitting that Chipotle, a decidedly American company (founded by a Coloradan former chef named Steve Ells) that sells Mexican-themed food is having one of its best days of the year on the stock market.

Chipotle has been a phenomenal success in recent years. Its shares are up 1,120% since McDonald’s made the curious decision to divest the company through an IPO in 2006. But it still has plenty of room to grow. At the end of 2013, it had fewer than 1,600 stores, or a penetration rate of 5.2 per million Americans, according to JPMorgan. McDonald’s had more than 14,000 US stores at the end of 2013, about 44 stores per million people, while Starbucks last quarter had 13,763 company-owned and licensed stores in the Americas (it doesn’t break down numbers by country, but the bulk are likely in the US). Privately owned Subway reportedly had more than 25,000 US stores in 2012.

In some places, however, Chipotle stores are already common enough that one is rarely far from a carnitas burrito bowl. As the chart below shows, its biggest presence, on a per capita basis, is in Washington DC, followed by Colorado, where it originated.

Image for article titled Chipotle’s plan to take over America starts with being on every corner in Washington DC

But the Chipotle story is only just beginning: JPMorgan expects the chain to reach between 4,000 and 6,000 stores over the “longer term”. Even if it were to replicate its DC penetration rate nationwide, it would have about 9,000 stores across the country — still some distance behind other big food chains.