New Ovens Could Be a Game Changer for Chipotle Mexican Grill

Things could be heating up at Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) soon. The chain that put fast casual on the dining map is exploring the addition of specialized ovens to its arsenal of kitchen gadgetry. Chipotle held an investor presentation at Baird's 2019 Global Consumer, Technology & Service Conference last week, and the testing of new baking gear came up.

The new ovens might not seem like a big deal, but they can play a vital role in expanding the burrito roller's offerings while improving the quality of at least one existing menu item. Once installed, the new appliances would help improve Chipotle's quesadillas while also facilitating the long overdue arrival of nachos. The rollout would also open the door for baked desserts, giving Chipotle a sweet way to cap off a meal.

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Quesadillas, nachos, and sweets -- oh my

Folks have been able to order quesadillas as an off-menu item for years, and recently they were added to most of the menu boards for kids' meals as small taco-sized offerings. The adult-sized quesadillas using the larger burrito flour tortillas are still not available for mobile ordering, but just ask inside and they'll set you up with the cheesy goodness. For now, the quesadillas are prepared in the same warmers that heat up the flour tortillas, but dedicated ovens would provide crispier and flakier edibles while also freeing up the warmer for its intended purpose.

Nachos would also be a natural addition, especially since Chipotle has fallen short in previous trial runs because it lacked the bakeware. The chain tested nachos out in roughly 20 locations when it added queso two years ago, figuring that simply drizzling its goopy cheese sauce over the chips with guests adding on additional toppings would do the trick. Guests didn't like it, as it felt more like movie theater or sporting event nachos than the tastier version in which chips are served warm with melted cheese in addition to the protein, queso, and other toppings. The new ovens would get Chipotle's nachos up to culinary speed.

"We're going back to the drawing board with nachos," Chipotle explained during last week's conference.

Desserts may be more of a gamble, but it's not as if Chipotle needs to clear tables quickly. Roughly two-thirds of the orders it fulfills are to-go orders, and even marginally popular meal-ending treats would be incremental to its average tab.

There could be a stumbling block with the new ovens, and that has to do with the chain's once-legendary throughput efficiency. Chipotle concedes that the speed of its service could be negatively impacted with the addition of baked-to-order fare. However, with Chipotle roaring back into investor fancy -- hitting fresh three-year highs on Wednesday -- it makes sense to strike with something new while momentum is hot.

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Rick Munarriz has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.