I ate at Moe’s and saw why its sales exploded during the pandemic

Moe’s is a fast-casual Mexican-inspired chain with about 700 locations across the US.
The chain works similarly to Chipotle, but I had never tried it.
Drive-thru and to-go sales took off during the pandemic, and after my visit I can see why.

I’m a big fan burritos and burrito bowls, so I decided to try Moe’s after it’s success during the last two years.

Moe’s operates on the same basic premise as Chipotle, a fast-casual Mexican restaurant where you can choose fillings to make up a burrito, bowl, or salad.

There are over 700 Moe’s locations across the US, compared to Chipotle’s nearly 3,000.

Both chains have dabbled in alternative ordering systems for food, including drive-thrus. Moe’s opened its first digital-only store in 2020.

Source: Insider

Both chains appeal to customers who value customization and “create-your-own” restaurant concepts, which tend to be younger consumers.

Source: QSR

Moe’s is a privately held company under parent Focus Brands, so it doesn’t share sales figures, but the chain did disclose that it saw huge gains from the pandemic, with sales growing double digits. Chipotle also saw double-digit gains during the same period, reporting more than 15% in same-store sales growth in its latest quarterly earnings.

Source: Forbes

There were a few customers when I went around lunchtime, but nothing like the long lines I was used to at Chipotle.

I had already ordered ahead on Moe’s app, which has a wide selection of burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and other ways to combine proteins, rice, and beans into something good.

I went with nachos for something a bit different, essentially all the same ingredients I would usually get in a burrito bowl, but served over chips instead.

Moe’s has slightly different options than Chipotle. For example, there are two kinds of chicken and tofu, while Chipotle has plant-based meat and barbacoa.

Moe’s also includes a free side of chips and salsa with every entree, which I appreciated.

When I got to the restaurant, I checked the pickup counter for my order.

My food wasn’t ready yet, so I looked around instead.

There was a typical self-serve drink station alongside napkins and utensils like you might find at any fast-food restaurant.

There was also a self-serve salsa station with five different varieties and little containers to spoon them into.

Usually, when I hear about Moe’s, it’s all about their queso. But in stores, the free salsa is a bigger deal, and signs all over the dining room promote it.

Each serving dish had a small sticker description. I went with two different red salsas and wrapped them up to eat with my food later.

I can see why the salsa would be appealing for takeout customers, with several varieties to choose from and the option to serve yourself.

The counter where servers make the orders looked very similar to Chipotle, with containers of all the options behind glass where customers could see their choices.

Like just about every other business in New York, signs told customers to mask up.

Peaking behind the counter, I could see the grills, which again looked just like what you’d see at Chipotle.

Then my food was ready and bagged up, so I took it home.

My nachos came in a giant plastic container.

Moe’s definitely didn’t skimp on ingredients —layers of chips, sour cream, and cheese were piled high.

My sister’s salad came in the same giant plastic container.

It was also a huge portion, with tons of cilantro on top.

Neither dish looked especially photogenic, but nachos rarely are.

Despite all the toppings, the chips weren’t soggy and stayed solid enough to hold up the rest of the nachos.

Overall the nachos were good, although I was surprised to see that I’d been charged extra for sour cream.

It was good, but I felt like I’d barely made a dent when I had to tap out and give the rest to my fiance.

He approved and said they were very good.

I appreciate the huge serving size, but I probably wouldn’t order the nachos again unless I know I’d be sharing with someone, because I don’t think they would reheat well.

The salad, which was packed full of vegetables, was an excellent choice according to my sister.

We also tried the salsas.

The chips were perfect, and still warm.

The salsa itself, however, had a strange taste and almost reminded me of marinara sauce.

I wished there had been some kind of pico de gallo salsa option. The choices I tried were lacking, but there were three others so maybe those were better.

The two entrees, along with two servings of chips and salsa, came out to just under $30.

The price was comparable to Chipotle in my area, though each chain considers different things extra charges, for example, queso is extra at Chipotle while sour cream is extra at Moe’s.

I didn’t dislike Moe’s, but it felt more like fast food than Chipotle does. Especially with menu options like the tortilla stack and tacos, I think it falls somewhere between Taco Bell and Chipotle on the quick-service Mexican spectrum.

Portions were definitely bigger than at Chipotle, which I think may contribute to the chain’s popularity with to-go customers. Each entree can easily be split into two or more meals.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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Retail, Features, Retail, Fast Food, Fast Casual, Moe’s, Chipotle, Taco Bell, Business Visual Features

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