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Here's what's happening to the Chipotle menu — and why it could start to look more like Taco Bell

A employee sprinkles cheese on a burrito at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in Hollywood, California.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Changes are coming to Chipotle. The fast-casual restaurant chain, known mostly for its burritos and a limited number of other items, is starting to branch out. It's testing multiple new menu items that could eventually roll out to customers nationwide. It may even serve breakfast, one day.

New CEO Brian Niccol, who joined the company in February after previously serving as Taco Bell’s CEO, is looking to turn around Chipotle’s fortunes; following a series of outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella and norovirus at various locations dating back to 2015.

Many customers have long lobbied for Chipotle to expand its offerings, and now Niccol seems to be listening. The company that it will be testing quesadillas, nachos, an avocado tostada and even a line of frozen drinks such as a Mexican chocolate milkshake.

Chipotle is testing adding quesadillas to its menu.

The nachos feature corn chips topped with beans, queso, sour cream and salsa.

The quesadillas are filled with meat and cheese, and they're served with toppings like salsa and guacamole on the side.

Meanwhile, the avocado tostada is Chipotle's take on avocado toast, featuring a toasted tortilla topped with avocado spread, salsa, and cheese.

The Mexican chocolate milkshake will have spices like cardamom and chipotle seasoning.

Both the quesadilla and the nachos are items that customers have been requesting for some time, Chipotle chief marketing officer Chris Brandt told Business Insider.

Avocado tostada? Chipotle tests new menu items

They are considering a sort of “happy-hour” option where restaurants would sell a taco and a drink for $2 between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., Niccol said.

The restaurant chain is “also exploring a similar offer for increased late-night sales after 8:00 PM," .

The new items would give Chipotle a deeper offering of side items and snacks as the company aims to attract a larger number of customers for both full meals and lighter snacking throughout the day.

Of course, the new Chipotle items are still just in the testing phase, and Niccol even told CNN on Thursday that it could take as long as three years before some of those items make their way onto the company’s national menu. The items are currently only available in a limited number of test markets, including New York City's Chipotle NEXT Kitchen testing location.

The reason for the wait? Chipotle needs to make sure its kitchens and staff can handle the increased workload from additional menu options while still serving the food quickly.

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“We’re not built right now to make a great quesadilla,” Niccol told The New York Times, noting that the quesadilla includes various fillings and toppings that take a long time to prepare.

Still, these moves show that Niccol may be trying to bring some of what worked for him at Taco Bell to his new gig at Chipotle. Niccol was behind some of Taco Bell’s most popular and inventive menu additions, from the Naked Chicken Chalupa to Doritos Locos Tacos.

For the most part, Chipotle has avoided tweaking its menu in the past, and the newly announced items would actually represent the largest menu expansion since the restaurant chain opened in 1993 (and they come a year after Chipotle introduced queso dip to mixed reviews).

Taco Bell is also adept at cycling limited-time food offerings onto its menu to create buzz, which is something Niccol says he is considering for Chipotle. “One of the things we’re learning is what’s the right way to bring in a product for a limited time,” he told The New York Times.

Niccol also introduced breakfast options at Taco Bell, offering some hope to Chipotle customers who have long hungered for the chain to offer breakfast burritos. Opening Chipotle restaurants for breakfast would be a “tough” proposition, due to the need for expensive additional equipment to cook the breakfast items and longer hours for employees, Niccol admitted in an interview with The Street.

But Niccol did not completely shut down the idea of serving breakfast. “If new equipment becomes available that we can put into the restaurant that supports having great fresh prep, we will obviously take a look at it,” he told The Street.

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