March 4, 2014

Chipotle to open doors Thursday

The restaurant, typically popular in college towns, is the latest sign of an improving economy and developer interest in Merced.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is set to open its doors Thursday.

The 2,000-square-foot Chipotle Mexican Grill on R Street has most recently been a training ground for its 25 to 30 employees.

Chipotle serves burritos, tacos, burrito bowls, salads and other items that are made in front of the consumers in a cafeteria-style process. It also typically sells beer.

The eatery is apparently highly anticipated.

The restaurant had proved to be a popular answer on city surveys asking UC Merced students what they would like to see in town, according to employees from Merced’s Office of Economic Development.

A “Bring Chipotle to Merced” Facebook page has been active since December 2012.

Area experts and officials have been saying that the economy in Merced is on the upswing, although it’s improving slowly. Olive Avenue and the R Street corridor has been buzzing with new businesses since the new year arrived.

Cafe-style eatery Panera Bread opened its 4,200-square-foot outlet last month on R Street, just off West Olive Avenue. Panera shares what used to be a Blockbuster store with Chipotle, leaving 800 square feet available for a third tenant.

Stockton-based In-Shape Health Clubs is refurbishing an 18,000-square-foot building on R Street, a site that once housed Circuit City. In-Shape is supposed to open by summer.

A new business to town, Harbor Freight Tools, is on pace to open in the shopping center near Hobby Lobby by May. Harbor Freight will sell industrial tools and supplies in a 12,198-square-foot building.

Workout fans and tool geeks must wait a while, but fans of carnitas and corn salsa need hold out only for about 24 hours.

Zoheb Mohammed, a UC Merced student, said he made a point to visit Panera on its first day in town. The environmental engineering major, with a Panera sandwich in hand, said he had his mind on something else.

“Looking forward to Chipotle,” he said with a smile.

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