The value of a perfect burrito

A lot of what you hear people say these days regarding successful marketing has a lot to do with having a product that serves a purpose, solves a problem, tells a story, etc. Generally, that’s true. No amount of creative or exciting “marketing” can make a success out of a garbage product… not for long, anyway.

However, somehow the burrito, sadly, seems to transcend this law. When I was living in Madison, WI, I was living amidst a sea of mediocre to downright awful burritos, yet somehow, those businesses did fairly well, and people seemed to enjoy eating them.

Yet, I can’t help but think that there’s a fantastic opportunity for someone to set up shop in a town like Madison and destroy the competition. Literally put every burrito spot in town out of business, overnight. Anyone who has ever eaten a burrito in San Francisco, or at Freebirds in Austin, TX, knows exactly what I’m talking about. (Not a great photo, but look at that tight Freebirds wrap!)

For some reason, it is difficult to find a burrito like they make in San Francisco. Sure, you may scoff, and you wouldn’t be the first. “How different can it be?” or “Don’t you think you’re making too much out of this?” people would say to me.

But then, they’d take a trip to San Francisco, and I’d insist they stop and get a burrito. Lo and behold, instant credibility. Why?

Here’s how it works, take a place like El Balazo on Haight Street in San Francisco. First, you walk in and are greeted by someone behind the glass.

Key #1: This person will hold your hand and walk your burrito through the birthing process from start to finish. No shift change, no hand-off. Your maker will lovingly handle your burrito through every step. This is important because they understand the dynamics, the nuances and the history of your burrito. It’s not just some thing or product. To them, it has a soul.

Key #2: The order of ingredients is key. First, they drop down the rice (more detail on this in Key #3). Then, and this is important, they put in the cheese. By doing this, the cheese begins to melt immediately. Places like Qdoba in Madison do the cheese last, so it never melts. By beginning the melting early, it serves as the glue of the burrito. Then you move to your meats, salsas, etc.

Key #3: Use spanish rice. Qdoba uses regular white rice. What? White rice? In a burrito? Bah.

Key #4: The salsa goes IN the burrito. Try and get salsa in a burrito at Pasqual’s, and you’ll be lucky to hit it 50% of the time… after painstakingly explaining it to them. The salsa and/or pico de gallo go INSIDE the burrito.

So, you go through the steps, you’ve told them, as the burrito has gone down the line, what you’d like in it. And the ingredients are all perfect (because they’ve been lovingly created, obviously). Now comes the final step. And this one is crucial. This is the one that will make or break the experience.

Key #5: The wrap. Burrito-makers in SF or at Freebirds understand that the wrap is crucial. When all ingredients are present and accounted for, the maker spreads them out, and then folds in the sides – with as little tortilla wrap as they can get away with – and they roll. And they don’t just lazily push it up the table until it’s wrapped. They pull the flap of the tortilla closest to them over the ingredients like a warm blanket, and they SQUEEZE. And they continue on, white-knuckled, until that wrap is completed. When they are done, you have a long and thin burrito. None of this Qdoba flimsy ball of guts that’s going to fall apart upon unwrapping. You can use a SF-wrapped burrito in hand-to-hand combat… like a billy club. They are wrapped so tight that it keeps its structural integrity until the last bite.

So, given the obvious differences between a well-made burrito and poor knock-offs, how does a place like Qdoba or Chipotle make it? I say to you that there is an opportunity traverse the country opening real taquerias and laying waste to the cheap imitations.

Is this a case of the people having spoken? Or do they just not know how great and important the burrito experience can be? I submit to you, that there’s gold in them thar hills.

– My name is Jon Friesch, and I don’t take the art of the burrito lightly.

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2 Responses to The value of a perfect burrito

  1. Burritos are no laughing matter. You address a far broader topic here of course. One that has roots in things such as Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, KOS and just general customer satisfaction. A lot of companies misplace their priorities and spend exuberant amounts of money on slick campaigns or offering options and choices that frankly customers do not care about.

    A good example I read long ago when studying Six Sigma, was that of a Pizza joint about to go out of business. They had chased business for a long time, offering specialty cheeses, and hundreds of other options but had failed at every turn.

    As a last resort they brought in a Six Sigma Black Belt, who quickly applied the principles that have worked so well for Toyota and previously for Motorola.

    He spoke to the customers.

    As it turns out they didn’t care about a having a million options (which incidentally was costing the pizza company uber-dollars in inventory and stocking equipment/transfers) They were more annoyed with late deliveries (which wound up being due to lacking skills on the parts of the people recording info from the customers on the phone). They were also annoyed with consistently burnt pizzas (it turn out 1 in 5 was blackish on the bottom upon delivery).

    The Six Sigma black belt addressed these issues (with phone training and new ovens) and low and behold the Pizza place turned around and within a year were expanding throughout the North West.

    Classic case of misplacing priorities.

    Of course it also has roots in poor Branding. Companies that spend tons of money on image and advertising, but lack the product or service are destined to just keep pouring money into reinventing their image. Branding needs to start at the product (or service) and work it’s way outwards.

    Maybe I will find my way down to WI and start up a specialty lunch wagon – since those are all the rage these days.

  2. Pingback: Lucky this didn’t happen in California… | Q Logic

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