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Chipotle Is Betting on Pizza

Tickers in this article: CMG

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) --  Chipotle Mexican Grill , the successful fast-casual burrito maker, is taking on a new challenge: Pizza.

The Denver-based company is backing a chain of upscale pizza restaurants known as Pizzeria Locale , which services artisan-style Neapolitan pizza.

Chipotle said in a release on Wednesday that it has partnered with Pizzeria Locale owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson to launch a fast-casual concept under the pizza restaurant's name. The first location opened in May in Denver, with plans for two more there, Chipotle said.

The partners are planning a "slow, measured expansion" of the concept that "allows the restaurant to perfect the concept and service model, and to develop from within the people it will need to staff additional restaurants," the press release said.

Stuckey and Mackinnon-Patterson's other ventures, Frasca Food and Wine, and the original Pizzeria Locale, opened in early 2011, sit adjacent to each other in Boulder, Colo.. They aren't part of this partnership and are not affiliated in any way with Chipotle.

Chipotle shares were falling 0.22% to $511.49 on Wednesday.

Chipotle partners with Pizzeria Locale owners, Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, to create a fast-casual pizza concept.

Clearly the burrito-chain sees opportunity in retooling popular eats into a more Chipotle-like experience. That means high-quality ingredients, a quick and "interactive" service line like Chipotle and, of course, creating a cult-like following that means lines wrapped around the corner for a typical workday lunch experience.

The pizza concept will be Chipotle's third expansion into other food concepts. It currently operates six ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen restaurants in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, with additional restaurants opening in the coming months, it said.

Pizzeria Locale's menu offers 10 "classic" pizzas, four American classics, or customer-created combinations from a selection of ingredients. Pizzas are fired in a high-temperature pizza oven that bakes the pizzas in less than two minutes. The restaurant also serves salads and sides including prosciutto and meatballs. Red or white Italian wine is available on tap, according to the press release.

"Bobby and Lachlan are extraordinary restaurateurs who truly understand what it takes to provide an exceptional dining experience," said Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle, in the press release. "I have known them for years and I thought their pizzeria in Boulder presented the perfect opportunity to collaborate. Opening Pizzeria Locale using a model similar to Chipotle allows us to make extraordinary pizza, made with high-quality ingredients accessible to everyone."

Ells was quick to note in the release that while the two other concepts are exciting, "our growth will continue to be driven for the foreseeable future by expanding the Chipotle brand within the U.S."

There currently are 1,550 Chipotle restaurants in the U.S.