How Moe’s Southwest Grill Unseated the Longstanding Champion and Became Brand of the Year in Fast-Casual Mexican
How Moe’s Southwest Grill Unseated the Longstanding Champion and Became Brand of the Year in Fast-Casual Mexican

For Moe’s Southwest Grill, integrity and authenticity go a long way.

Earlier this year, Moe’s Southwest Grill literally gave Chipotle a run for its money—the smaller brand unseated Chipotle as Brand of the Year in the fast-casual Mexican restaurant category. That’s a pretty big honor for a brand less than half the size of Chipotle (Moe’s clocks in at 650 locations, while Chipotle has well over 2,000).

Walk into any Moe’s locations in the U.S. today, and the first thing you’ll hear is the entire staff enthusiastically greeting you. Saying “hello” is part of the fast-casual Mexican chain’s appeal to creating a friendly and inviting atmosphere for families. And since making its debut in late 2000 (seven years after Chipotle) in Atlanta, Georgia, Moe’s Southwest Grill quickly made a name for itself in a crowded category because of that unrivaled culture.

Simply put, the Moe’s experience is one that customers can feel good about—from the service to the menu. Moe’s has long distinguished itself from other fast casual restaurants with fresh and healthy ingredients. There are no microwaves, freezers, trans fats, or MSG at Moe’s. The chicken is cage-free and steroid-free, the pork is grain-fed, the steak is grass-fed and the tofu is organic. There are also over 20 different gluten-free ingredients and the grilled vegetables are prepared on a separate surface from the meat to accommodate vegetarians. Moe’s cares about the environment, too—a priority that’s evident in the food they serve and they buildings they serve it out of. In June of 2011, a Moe’s in Vermont became the first restaurant of any kind in the state to earn an LEED Silver certification. A few months later, a location in Atlanta became a 2 Star Certified Green Restaurant.

For all of these reasons and more, Moe’s is on the cusp of significant expansion. And according to Paul Macaluso, the Senior Vice President of Brand Marketing Strategy for FOCUS Brands, it all boils down to one core value—authenticity.

“I’m a strong believer that no matter who is your competition, you need to be clear on your advantaged playing field. At Moe’s, we dominate in what we refer to as our ‘irreverent welcome’ and ‘feeding creativity.’ Everything starts with our hearty ‘Welcome to Moe’s!’ which encourages guests to feel at home and be themselves,” said Macaluso to Nation’s Restaurant News. “Our ‘feeding creativity’ is our ability to provide substantially more options for people to personalize their meal. We have nearly twice as many product platforms (including quesadillas, nachos and Stacks) than our largest competitor.”

In a time where more and more consumers demand healthier options, Moe’s has found its sweet spot in offering more personalized meals that can be tailored to just about any diet. And that has ultimately helped the brand stand out from the crowd.

“We have USDA-certified organic tofu and clearly identifiable vegetarian options across the entire menu. Our 20-plus fresh ingredients give people tons of high quality choices. We embrace the fact that our guests each have their own “food mission,” whether that’s high-protein, flexitarian, Paleo, etc.,” Macaluso said. “Our guests love to personalize their meals, but the inspiration starts with having plenty of premium ingredients to choose from. We are committed to communication, craftsmanship, authenticity and customization in an unpretentious way. That kind of integrity has taken our brand far, and we hope it’ll continue to do so.”