Could Chipotle/ShopHouse's Awful Vietnamese Sandwiches Be Proof of an Inability to Diversify Its Offerings?

August 14, 2012 3:43 PM EDT
Chipotle (Photo: Creative Commons)

We've already written about some of the failures of ShopHouse SouthEast Asian Kitchen, Chipotle's only attempt to test diversifying its offerings past the limits of Mexican cuisine. Their flagship test location in Dupont Circle, D.C. has seen some problems of identity, with Chipotle's admirable mission for good ingredients sunk by some seriously bad cooking.

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Unfortunately, they have a new mess on their hands (and we're not just talking the noodle bowls, here): they've had to say goodbye to their Banh Mi, a hip Vietnamese sandwich that, if done well or even just serviceably, could have made this fast food chain a destination hotspot in corporate neighborhoods that don't have Vietnamese offerings.

Why are they saying goodbye to the promising sandwich? According to Austin Roberts, a marketing consultant for Chipotle/ShopHouse, the biggest reason for the axe is that ShopHouse's culinary team couldn't find a bread that they really liked. While everything else is made in-house, the bread gets sourced from elsewhere.

"We didn't want to serve something in our restaurants that we weren't going to stand behind and that we thought didn't really fit," Roberts claimed.

A multitude of negative reviews of the bread probably helped factor into their decision. According to Tom Sietsema, a restaurant critic for the Washington Post, "the Vietnamese sandwiches are better for their fillings... than with their ordinary bread."

Others went a little further, like the Washingtonian which criticized ShopHouse's banh mi for its "thick, chewy banh mi roll [that] made us wish we were at the Eden Center instead."

Disappointing those these reviews may be, its proof that all ShopHouse is really suffering from is a failure to launch. There's the possibility for great success there, provided they really think about what they're going to do with a cuisine in which you can't be as ham-fisted as you can with, say, fast food Mexican.

Till they figure that out, the ShopHouse brand is just going to be a middling addition to the Chipotle family, or worse, proof to the company's investors that it won't be able to successfully move past the confines of one cuisine and into others.

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