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HMSHost adds quick casual Mexican food partner

HMSHost Corp. has made Baja Fresh Mexican Grill its preferred fast casual Mexican food chain for future expansion throughout the airport industry.

Baja Fresh is slated to open soon at Los Angeles International (LAX) and has been included as a potential tenant in several outstanding HMSHost requests for proposals at airports around the country, says Pat Carroll, the Bethesda, Md.-based company’s vice president of branded concept portfolio.

He declined to disclose at which airports HMSHost has included Baja Fresh, but did say there are multiple locations in play. The company is intrigued by Baja Fresh’s quality food products, its established distribution, and its willingness to work cooperatively on creating stores that fit into non-traditional real estate locations. Doing so involves fitting the concept into smaller real estate footprints and shrinking the menu.
That flexibility and the existing distribution chain makes Baja Fresh available as a potential partner in almost any potential HMSHost RFP proposal or real estate maximization projects going forward, Carroll says.

HMSHost has also been pleased with its relationship with James Walker, president of Baja Fresh, and the rest of the executive team at Baja Fresh. The Thousand Oaks, CA-based chain of 291 restaurants has been owned by B.F. Operations Holdings LLC, an investment company, since purchasing it from Wendy’s International Inc. for $31M last October. Baja Fresh has announced plans to expand through franchising across the US and emphasizes that airport stores put its product in front of scores of people.

Those growth plans along with the aforementioned infrastructure made Baja Fresh a good partner for HMSHost. “We just felt as though BF was a perfect fit for our portfolio in the quick casual sense,” Carroll says.
The company evaluated Baja Fresh and other quick casual Mexican restaurants as it does with other food categories. “We want to ensure we have a powerful set of brands that we can deploy as we go after contracts or we do real estate maximization,” he says. “Customers are asking for this type of flavor profile.”

Chipotle is the largest QSR Mexican concept followed by Baja Fresh and Qdoba Mexican Grill. Carroll acknowledged that all three are solid chains with good growth plans and solid distribution networks, but he’s long been partial to Baja Fresh. It’s good quality family-style food at a decent price point.

“Mexican has been a booming category over the last four or five years,” Carroll says. “I was a Baja fan before we struck the deal. It’s just good stuff.”

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