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Chipotle Mexican Grill detailed several plans for 2011, including a previously announced rollout of an improved margarita and the test in California of a premium tofu-based vegetarian protein called Sofritas.

The Denver-based brand of more than 1,400 restaurants also will increase its marketing this year and accentuate the fast-casual chain’s preparation and actual cooking of burrito ingredients in its stores, founder and co-chief executive Steve Ells said.

Chief financial officer Jack Hartung added that the 48 restaurants Chipotle opened in the first quarter of 2013 was the highest total of new units in a first quarter the company has ever achieved. The company’s guidance was for 165 to 180 new stores for fiscal 2013.

“We’re well on our way to having a level-opening year,” Hartung said. “That’s really important from an operations standpoint because the hiring, training and opening of new restaurants — we feel our teams can do a much better job at this pace.”

Chipotle has even more restaurants in its pipeline than its opening guidance, Hartung added, though it is too early to tell if a lack of sufficient real estate sites or people in certain trade areas limits that upside.

Ells added that the company’s fast-casual Asian restaurant ShopHouse has no shortage of quality real estate or capable managers once that single-unit concept opens more locations this year, including another outlet in the District of Columbia and two units in Los Angeles. The general managers slated to run the ShopHouse stores in California are Restaurateur-level managers at Chipotle.

“ShopHouse has a lot of potential,” Ells said. “In so many ways is exactly the same as Chipotle: the same attention to raw ingredients that we buy, attention to classical cooking techniques, preparing food in an open kitchen in front of the customer, and serving them in an interactive format to give them exactly what they want. … It’s about showing that maybe Chipotle was successful because of this new-fast-food system we invented.”

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN