Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. may be getting into the burger business.
The company filed a trademark application this month for "Better Burger," according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. Chipotle, which has already invested in two smaller chains, is considering opening another restaurant concept focused on hamburgers, according to Chris Arnold, a spokesman for the Denver-based company.
"It's a growth seed idea we are exploring," he said in an e-mail. "We have two non-Chipotle growth seeds open now -- ShopHouse and Pizzeria Locale -- and have noted before that the Chipotle model could be applied to a wide variety of foods."
Even as it mulls expansion, the burrito seller is trying to recover from a food-safety crisis that began last year. The company suffered a series of E. coli and norovirus outbreaks, driving away customers and spurring an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The fallout is ongoing: Same-store sales tumbled 26% in February, and the company expects to report a loss in the first quarter.
A burger chain would give Chipotle a way to expand under a fresh banner. It also would continue efforts to apply the fast-casual model -- fresh ingredients and customized menu items -- to other cuisines. Chipotle opened its first ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen in Washington in 2011. The noodle-selling chain has since expanded to Los Angeles and Chicago. Chipotle also has invested in Pizzeria Locale, a fast-casual restaurant that started in Colorado.