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California Tortilla rebrands airport locations

Fast-casual burrito chain California Tortilla is rebranding its airport locations as Burrito Elito, the company said.

The new concept, named after the 35-unit chain’s loyalty program, will debut in March with new locations in Boston’s Logan Airport and Philadelphia International Airport. Existing California Tortilla units in Washington, D.C.-area airports Dulles, Reagan National and Baltimore-Washington International, will be rebranded in the second quarter of 2012.

Bob Phillips, president of the Rockville, Md.-based chain, said the name change would allow the company to test new menu items and operational initiatives at airport locations before introducing them systemwide. A California Tortilla spokeswoman also said the different name was indicative of operational changes, such as the fact that the airport units will serve breakfast and their collection of hot sauces, called the “Wall of Flame,” will be smaller than those of freestanding units.

In addition, airport locations aren’t always able to participate in California Tortilla’s irreverent marketing promotions, such as Occupy CalTort Day, or its annual Pop-Tart giveaway, she said.

All five Burrito Elito units will be owned by franchisees Patricia Reilly and Dan Koch.

The rebranding comes as California Tortilla’s management works on repositioning its main concept in an effort to highlight its food preparation.

Phillips said future locations would have exhibition kitchens to help communicate to customers that the restaurants’ guacamole, dressings, salsas and queso are all made in-house several times a day.

“And operationally, we’re changing when we do prep,” Phillips said. Going forward, they’ll be preparing salsas and guacamole during service rather than beforehand.

The assembly area where burritos are made also is being changed from metal to glass, with special lighting to illuminate the food.

The first prototype is slated to open in March in Lancaster, Pa.

After that, four company-owned locations are expected to be remodeled to demonstrate their return on investment to franchisees.

Franchisees will have several rebranding options ranging from a paint job and new branding materials to a complete retrofit, including the exhibition kitchen.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

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