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Chipotle Mexican Grill is coming soon to the Irvine Spectrum Center and Wing Lam of Wahoo's Fish Taco isn't happy.Chipotle at Irvine Spectrum.
Chipotle, the expanding burrito empire once owned by McDonald's, is opening close to Wing's restaurant, one of 47 in the growing restaurant chain he founded with his two brothers. Wahoo's is across from Macy's near the parking lot off the 5 Freeway. Chipotle is on the same side of shopping center, to the north, by Urban Outfitters and Barnes & Noble.
Wing blames the Irvine Company.
"That's how the Irvine Company rewards its better tenants," he said. "They put my biggest competitor 100 yards away."
Especially irksome, he said, is that his lease includes a non-compete clause that prohibits him from opening within 3 miles of the Spectrum. Yet his landlord is putting a rival so close - a well-financed, publicly-traded rival with 640 restaurants and a market cap of $3.2 billion.
After talking to Wing I called Bill Rams at the Irvine Company. Bill and I go way back. We started out together as young reporters at The Register years ago and formed that special bond that develops when working super hard for little pay. He now is director of media relations at the biggest landowner in Orange County.
Here's his response to Wing's comments.
"We work hard to provide choices and merchants that our guests will enjoy. Wahoo's has been very successful at Irvine Spectrum Center and we expect them to continue to be very successful. Our customer base is expanding. When Wahoo's opened at Irvine Spectrum Center, we had just under 9 million annual visitors. Today, it's more than 13 million -- a 53-percent increase. A new apartment community just opened across the street. New office buildings are opening soon nearby. Wahoo's and Chipotle are representative of the kind of quick, convenient, high-quality dining that nearby residents and workers -- and our customers -- appreciate and enjoy."
Here's my take: When Chipotle opens, don't forget Wahoo's. Wing and his brothers started with one restaurant on Placentia Avenue in Costa Mesa and give a lot back to the community. They are deeply embedded in the fabric of Orange County. Support the locals.