The untold truth of Qdoba

Qdoba Mexican Eats, or the place you used to know as Qdobe Mexican Grill (and a few other snazzy titles before that), has been slinging delicious tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and various other Mexican concoctions since 1995. The chain started in Denver, Colorado but has now expanded to 722 locations across the country. Often viewed as a rival to another very popular burrito eatery that started in Colorado, Chipotle, Qdoba has made a concerted effort to pave its own identity over the years. It's weathered some branding issues and some changes in ownership, but still remains a reliable, fast-casual option for fresh fare, and sometimes even free guacamole.

Despite its popularity, there are some underground fun facts around the Mexican chain you know and love, so we thought we'd delve into some Qdoba 4-1-1. This is what you might not already know about your queso bearing, cilantro-rice-loving haven, Qdoba Mexican Eats.

Qdoba has gone through several name changes

Since its beginnings in 1995, Qdoba has undergone quite a few name changes. It went from Z-Teca to Qdoba in 1999 due to a trademark-infringement. Before that, it was Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill. Did it affect their growth? John Imbergamo, a Colorado based restaurant consultant, spoke to the Denver Post in 2007 about it. "I think they're still a bit behind in terms of brand awareness because of that," he said — and the fact that their biggest competitor has always went by the same name doesn't help. "Chipotle is known as the hometown big-burrito place because they were here first, and the acquisition by McDonald's was a big story, so they're much better publicized."

Then in 2015, it went from being Qdoba Mexican Grill to Qdoba Mexican Eats. What's the difference? Well, Qdoba's vice president of brand marketing at that time, David Craven, told QSR, "It's a bit more conversational and relatable to our core consumer — and it doesn't position the brand as being highfalutin," in reference to the newly designated "Eats" moniker. With the name change also came some rebranding and redecorating, a lot which was in an effort to stand (way, way) apart from Chipotle. Removing "grill" from the name was a solid start for Qdoba's mission to not be in the other Colorado-born, fresh burrito joint's shadow.

Qdoba reduced prices to win back customers in 2014

The "extras" at Qdoba were free at one point in time (and they still are at some locations), but that hadn't always been the case. In 2014, the Mexican Eats chain rolled out a slew of menu changes that primarily involved creating a lot of freebies. From complimentary chile BBQ sauce and fajita vegetables, to gratis queso and guacamole, Qdoba got really generous. Apparently, Qdoba noticed customers complaining a lot about the surcharges for these extras. The brand president during that time, Tim Casey, explained to USA Today, "We heard complaints from guests and from team members... they view (the extra charges ) as nickel-and-diming them." Clearly they thought this move would bring in a little extra love for the chain. 

Of course, the free extras sometimes meant slight increases in prices elsewhere on the menu. But hey, that's probably not that noticeable to people when they know they're still getting free stuff at a restaurant, especially when that free stuff includes cheese or avocados.

Qdoba used to be owned by Jack in the Box

Food snobs who shun Jack in the Box may be dismayed to learn that at one time, the late night fast food hodge podge (tacos and burgers on the same menu!) owned the fancier and more hip fast-casual chain Qdoba. In 2003, Jack in the Box bought the chain for $45 million when it had only 85 locations across 16 states, and was banking $65 million in sales. Gary Beisler, the president and chief executive at the time, was grateful for the boost brought by Jack in the Box. He commented to the Denver Post that, "They're a great partner because they bring us buying power... it doesn't hurt to have a very successful public company as your big brother, but we operate very independently." By 2017, Qdoba raked in $820 million. Smart move, Jack in the Box.

Jack in The Box sold Qdoba in 2018 for $305 million to Apollo Global Management. By then, Qdoba had a pretty sizable fan base, even in comparison to Chipotle, but sales at the the chain had started to slump. Jack in the Box got out just in time to take the money and run, presumably back to its bevy of late night munchie outposts.

Qdoba blamed higher avocado prices for a slump in sales

When in doubt, blame the avocado. In 2017, when then owner Jack in the Box sold Qdoba, Qdoba had been experiencing a decline in sales. That year, sales for stores that had been open a minimum of a year saw a 1.4 percent drop. Qdoba's explanation for their downturn? The higher price (a 50 percent increase) of the avocado fruit used to make their beloved guacamole... the guacamole that they were slinging out to customers free of charge

They must have gotten over their avocado woes by 2018, considering that the chain took the time to basically make fun of Chiopotle's "Free Guac Day" by sending truckloads of avocados to various Colorado Chipotle restaurants. The joke is sort of on Qdoba now though, because the guacamole is only free at participating locations. Did they not learn from the Great Avocado Price Hike of 2017?!

In addition to avocado price tags, Qdoba also blamed lower sales on increased labor expenses, as well as the stiff competition involved with being a fast-casual chain in these fast-casual-lovin' times.

Qdoba has some distinct differences from Chipotle

While the two are compared quite a bit, there are some measurable differences between Qdoba and Chipotle. Some think Qdoba is cheaper, simply because some locations still serve free sides of guacamole or queso. However, in a 2018 QSR study, Qdoba did prove to be slightly more expensive on average.

Qdoba does offer a lot more menu options than Chipotle. While Chipotle is sort of deliberately simplistic, Qdoba aims to give customers a lot to choose from in order to differentiate itself from the other fast-casual Mexican fave. There's breakfast items at Qdoba, and they've even started serving the vegetarian-friendly Impossible brand of faux meat. And the quesadilla is no secret menu speciality at Qdoba—it's straight up on the menu board for your picking.

Now let's talk melted cheese. Not only did Qdoba serve queso first, but some people argue that their queso has always been a lot better tasting than Chipotle's queso, despite its various attempts at improvement. Just sayin,' it's important to acknowledge the unique elements of each chain before you lump them together as one in the same.

The culinary team at Qdoba is jumping on the trendy diet train

If a Mexican restaurant brimming with taco shells and burrito tortillas feels like the antithesis to your Keto way of life, Qdoba has got your back. Yes, it's possible to figure out how to order a meal that's keto-friendly if you get creative but it's really convenient when the thinking is done for you. The chain now sells low-carb keto bowls. The restaurant also wants to make sure keto eaters don't have to compromise on taste just because they're sticking to their diet.

Vegans are getting a boost by Qdoba these days too. The culinary masters at the brand recently added a Grilled Fajita Vegan Bowl to the menu. The vegan option is coming on the heels of the Impossible brand collaboration, which offers both a taco and a bowl at Qdoba. Again, ordering vegan is quasi-doable at a place with customizable menu options but it's a thousand times easier to just get the speciality vegan bowl and enjoy it with the promise that it will be both delicious and completely vegan-official.

The Qdoba headquarters seem awesome

While Qdoba may have Colorado roots, it now calls San Diego home, or at least the Qdoba HQ does. When Apollo Global Management bought Qdoba from Jack in the Box in 2018, the Mexican chain continued to share an office campus with its old owner. In 2019, Qdoba finally made the split official with a new space. Qdoba took over the old San Diego Union-Tribune offices, and made them very hip and Qdoba-themed.

Pictures of the official Qdoba Mexican Eats headquarters in San Diego, California kind of make us want to work there. We're assuming there are free burritos available on demand at all times too? There's even an orange-splash-laden corridor dubbed the "Queso Hallway." Employees have access to a cafe and a gym on-site, which is definitely an easy way to burn off the chips and salsa they're likely downing during lunch every day.

People got typhoid fever after eating at Qdoba

"The food is great but beware the typhoid!" is not exactly what you want to hear prior to dining at a restaurant. Unfortunately, Qdoba experienced some bad (and weird) press in 2015 when there were three cases of typhoid fever that a doctor and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment traced back to a Qdoba restaurant in Firestone, Colorado. It's hard to believe that typhoid fever is even still a thing (what century is it?) but the patients were hospitalized and apparently very sick. Typhoid fever can be contracted by salmonella typhi bacteria, which was attributed to a food handler at the restaurant. Yikes, this is indeed a glaring reminder to wash your hands... thoroughly. 

The Qdoba restaurant cooperated with authorities and assured them that the person was no longer handling food (they didn't specify if he or she was fired). Qdoba has remained free of typhoid scandals ever since, thankfully. There's nothing like a case of typhoid to ruin your appetite for queso.