Qdoba Introduces Their Anti-Chipotle Weapon: Quentessa

By Michelle Castillo, Social Media Coordinator

Qdoba Mexican Grill is determined to step out Chipotle's shadow. No longer wanting the reputation of a "me-too" burrito company, they are planning to overthrow the giant chain with a unique weapon: an imaginary woman.  

Yep, you read it right.

Meet Quentessa, the new femme fatale of the food industry. She is the inspiration behind their vision. Qdoba created this persona to represent everything they want their brand to be. She is a model they follow and their thematic compass.

Quentessa is the girl all the boys want and who all the girls want to be. Qdoba’s plan is to redesign the chain based on Quentessa's personality. The atmosphere will be revolved on the type of flavor she brings. Everything from store architecture, branding, the menu and how employees interact with customers will change based on Quentessa.

"She’s naturally magnetic, leads a story-filled life, and invites others to do the same. She’s a personification of flavor in our lives," said Vice President of Brand Marketing, David Craven.

She apparently also loves to eat at Qdoba. Figures.

The outcome of this makeover will be very interesting to see due to the chain’s inability to get away from being second to Chipotle since its start. The chain opened as Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill (later renamed Z-Teca after a lawsuit, then Qdoba, after another).

With the way things are going, for the first time in 20 years, Qdoba is ready to get on the field with Chipotle. Qdoba was sitting in the stands with Moe's Southwest Grill, while Chipotle was a titan in the fast-casual industry with its 2,000 locations and $3.2 billion in revenue. However, according to Wall Street, Qdoba stepped up their game in 2014 with its menu and price adjustments. 

How did they come up with their game-changing plan? President Tim Casey set up a 12-firm competition, and in the end, brand strategy and design firm Prophet rose to the top to remake Qdoba as a whole. When doing consumer research, it was clear that the chain had to implement some type of theme that would lead them to their own white space in the industry. This is when Prophet came up with the idea of having a persona targeting customers 18 to 24 years-old, skewing male. And thus, Quentessa was born.

"There wasn’t any image per se. There was a lot of inspirational elements, I'd say, that helped us grasp who she was. Some of those points of inspiration were characters in movies—that’s an easy way for people in brands to wrap their heads around obtuse ideas," Tim Casey said. "We thought about Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. Mila Kunis in her Jim Beam work recently. Uma Thurman in some of her movies—like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill—obviously not the full scope! But this idea of having boldness. Flavor. Badass without trying. Sophisticated, yet approachable and successful."

Quentessa is now Qdoba's leading lady in a campaign against Chipotle. Chipotle is known for its efficiency and reliability, not necessarily its creativity in food or design. But Prophet wants to shake things up by making Qdoba a space where people can let loose. Its plans include wood-topped tables that can be rearranged for small groups with bright colored interiors. 

"We [created] a visual system that’s not based upon the clichés of the Mexican grill category," explained Prophet CCO, Peter Dixon. "Not sombreros and cactuses, but street art and strong visual tropes of Mexican culture."

Each space will be uniquely laid out with different local artwork so the chain locations don’t actually look like part of a chain.

Now, let’s get to the important part. You know — the food. Qdoba may have gotten criticized for being too bland in the past, but they plan to reverse this by going all-out with tacos. The chain believes Chipotle isn’t giving tacos enough attention, considering tacos are hot right now. From the food truck scene to fine-dining restaurants, consumers dig tacos. Chipotle may be king of burritos, but no restaurant has yet to take the taco throne in the fast-casual world. 

Qdoba will be displaying a traditional flat-top grill where consumers can watch raw masa and wheat dough toast into their tortillas. How does that sound compared to Chipotle’s pre-made flour tortillas? Consumers will have the option to fill their tacos with flavors such as lime chili brisket, tequila chicken or steak with caesar salad. Qdoba has also in the last year stopped up charging for add-ons such as guacamole. (You hear that, Chipotle?)  

"You can be more experimental," says Dixon. "You can share them. They’re a great social food. You can mix and match in one meal." 

Qdoba wants to avoid the corporate-machine feel, that usually includes structured assembly lines and robot-type employees. The chain wants employees to be themselves and speak their minds. With new casual polo-free uniforms, including hoodies, employees will give off a more laid back vibe, because they indeed will feel that way.

"The worst thing you could hear is a server who says everything’s good," added John Cooke, VP of Menu Strategy and Innovation. "You don’t trust anything they say. We want our team members to be talking about the flavors they personally love." Read More