Could Chipotle be bringing bahn mi and noodle bowls to fast food?

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Its still bowls, just with a bit of twist.
  • WoodStone
  • It's still a bowl, just with a bit of twist.
The Vietnamese sandwich, the banh mi, has never had its shot at mass production, until now. Chipotle founder and CEO Steve Ells debuted ShopHouse recently in Washington, D.C. It's a test franchise for a Chipotle-style take on Southeast Asian cuisine that features bowls of rice and noodles and banh mi sandwiches (priced between $6.50 and $8) with customers choosing the condiments, veggies and proteins.

It's a clever reinvention of a familiar idea. The exposed aluminum siding of Chipotle has given way to exposed light bulbs and walls that are bare except for a shelf filled with unopened Sriracha bottles. This is a concept that needs neither a large amount of space nor time and investment to be built out.

The ShopHouse version of a banh mi.
  • Serious Eats
  • The ShopHouse version of a banh mi.
Diners can choose from chicken satay, pork or chicken meatballs, and grilled steak or tofu to place atop jasmine rice, brown rice or rice noodles or inside of a Banh mi. You can add on wok-fried Chinese broccoli, eggplant with Thai basil, long beans with carmelized onion, or spicy charred corn. There are three sauces — tamarind vinaigrette, green curry or spicy red curry — and pickles, herb salad or green papaya slaw. Serious Eats ate its way through the menu and pronounced the meatballs as "juicy, delicious gold."

The possibility that ShopHouse could be the first national banh mi shop reminds me of an episode of This American Life that aired last July. In the episode entitled "Million Dollar Idea," host Ira Glass talked about how Vietnamese sandwiches are an unlikely million-dollar idea, "even if they don't make you a million dollars." Chipotle is hoping to change that.

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