Monday is a great day not to be Chipotle, the embattled burrito chain that, thanks to a slew of foodborne illnesses linked to its restaurants, is opening after the lunchtime rush hour Monday in order to hold meetings on food safety. Several restaurant chains, including Freshii and Taco Bell, have actively moved to capitalize on Chipotle's brief suspension of business, with tactics ranging from offering deals and discounts to launching new menu items.
Freshii, a Canadian restaurant chain that serves wraps, salads and fresh juices, is offering 50 percent off of all "Mexican-inspired menu items" all day Monday, such as the Pangoa bowl (rice and beans, plus cheddar, cilantro and lime with barbecue sauce), and its Tex Mex and Baja burritos. Freshii said it would offer the deal, for which it uses the hashtag #chipotfrii, at 200 locations in 15 countries.
“We figured the least we would do was look after their customers while Chipotle pauses to recalibrate,” Matthew Corrin, Freshii's founder and CEO, said. And of course, the chain can profit, too. “If a few Chipotle customers fall in love with a Freshii menu item,” he added, “we hope they’ll come back to both stores more often.”
Customers with a lunchtime hankering for a burrito bulging with rice, beans and carnitas could also head to Moe's Southwest Grill, which is offering a buy one, get one free deal with a coupon that, conveniently, is valid from Jan. 25 through Feb. 12. A note from the company called it "the best rebound burrito on the market," TIME reported.
Meanwhile, On the Border, a sit-down Mexican restaurant, picked Monday to celebrate the launch of its to-go burrito boxes and other non-burrito takeout options, with a discount.
“With Chipotle taking some time off on Feb. 8, we want everyone to still get their burrito fix and try the best-kept burrito secret in town,” Ashley Zickefoose, chief marketing officer of On the Border, said.
And Taco Bell revealed during a Super Bowl ad Sunday the identity of a new mystery food that it has hyped for months. Called the quesalupa — a cross between a chalupa and quesadilla that is essentially fried flatbread filled with cheese and other ingredients — it hit menu boards across the U.S. Monday, just in time for when hungry, would-be Chipotle customers are in search of Mexican fare elsewhere.
Both Chipotle's profits and its public image have been slammed in the past six months, after more than 500 people in more than a dozen states got food poisoning after eating at its branches. The onslaught of food-related illnesses have been traced back to the bacteria E. coli and salmonella, as well as to sick workers carrying the stomach bug norovirus, and the company is currently under federal investigation for one of the outbreaks, in Simi Valley, California.