Bette Pearce and Shawn Foucher
ELYRIA — Elyria to the food industry: Hold the barbecue beef, bring on the black beans.
Chipotle Mexican Grill — that bastion of burritos and fortress of fajitas — is looking to locate in the Midway Mall area this year, according to Elyria Mayor Bill Grace.
The announcement comes just weeks after Smokey Bones, the stalwart of slow-cooked barbecue beef and burgers, gutted the grills and shuttered its West River Road shop.
Chipotle officials have yet to formally announce their plans, but Grace said they’ve expressed “strong interest” in the Midway Mall area.
“They’re planning to build here and will have plans sometime this summer,” Grace said. “A Chipotle will be here in about a year.”
Christopher Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, said he has yet to hear of plans to locate a restaurant in Elyria, though he added that the company’s real estate investors probably haven’t released information because plans are not finalized.
Grace said the restaurant will be built near Midway Mall, though he couldn’t reveal a specific location.
Grace said he recently spoke to a representative of Centro Watt, owner of the mall.
“They have some preliminary plans they’re pitching to their tenants,” Grace said. “So far, they’re just plans, but there are signs they are committed to make it a viable center.”
A Centro Watt spokesperson could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Meanwhile, Darden Restaurants — owner of the Smokey Bones chain — still has no plans for its closed property.
In early May, Darden closed 54 Smokey Bones restaurants nationwide, including Elyria’s.
Rumors of any restaurant moving into Darden’s Elyria property are incorrect at this time, said Joe Chabus, spokesman for Darden.
“We are still evaluating how to proceed with that property,” Chabus said.
Chipotle has 600 restaurants across the country, including one near Great Northern shopping center in North Olmsted. The company opened its first store in 1993.
Chipotle specializes in burritos, tacos, burrito bowls and salads made from fresh, raw ingredients.
However, the introduction of Chipotle at Midway Mall could force some quesadilla-crazed folks to make fast-and-hard decisions in the years to come — there’s already a Qdoba Mexican restaurant at Midway Mall, as well as El Jarabe Mexican Grill just down West River Road.
The family-owned El Jarabe is of a different mold than Qdoba and Chipotle, which follow a similar concept: fresh Mexican food served fast and hot on a breakneck assembly line.
“I don’t know,” said Maria Arzuaga, 17, working at Midway Mall on Wednesday. “Burritos are a crazy subject.
“Qdoba has more choices, but to me, they’re still kind of the same,” Arzuaga said of the two Mexican-food meccas. “But Chipotle has been around longer, and they’re more well-known.”
But some think Qdoba has edged the competition.
“Qdoba has more of a selection,” said Teresa Merriweather, 26, shopping at Midway Mall on Wednesday. “It’s not as standard at Chipotle. Qdoba has gumbo soup, more variety on the menu. And they’re faster.”
But Chipotle-lovers disagree.
“Qdoba is trying to emulate Chipotle,” argued Meko Riggins, 26. “Qdoba has nothing on Chipotle — nothing.”
Contact Bette Pearce at 329-7148
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