How badly do I need a free burrito?

That's the question I asked myself as I got in line -- roughly 70 patrons deep -- at the grand opening of a burrito shop a few blocks away from my home yesterday afternoon.

Word had spread quickly of the stunt, offering a free drink and burrito to anyone who showed up between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. yesterday. I thought I had timed it right by showing up at 3 p.m., as far removed as possible from the obvious lunch and dinner rushes.

I was wrong. There I was, surrounded by high school kids and college students half my age. Man, Miami is loaded with cheapskates!

I had to stick it out, though. See, this burrito shop wasn't just a Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG) (NYSE:CMG-B); it was my Chipotle. Despite the chain's heady stateside expansion, it hadn't opened a store in Miami until earlier this year. And that one is roughly 20 miles away in North Miami. Yesterday's debutante is practically a neighbor.

More importantly, the shares have more than doubled since I recommended Chipotle to Motley Fool Rule Breakers subscribers earlier this year. What kind of analyst would I be if I didn't tough it out to fill my belly in the name of field research?

A carnitas burrito is born
The line moved quickly. It always does at Chipotle. The menu is intentionally limited, focusing on quality ingredients that can be dispensed quickly. It takes just seconds to go from the tortilla-warming station to the point where you're holding your wrapped burrito. Hold your breath next time and see, though I'll admit it poses a challenge in selecting what you want in your burrito.

The line moved blazingly fast yesterday. It helps that the registers weren't ringing, though Chipotle's been experimenting with everything from handheld point-of-sale credit card readers to automatic change dispensers to speed up the entire process.

I won't bore you with the food review, other than to say that I'll be back. People always come back. Chipotle has posted double-digit comps for nine consecutive years. It's on pace to stretch that streak to 10 years, though the company is already guiding investors to expect single-digit comps gains come 2008.

Don't worry, though. Chipotle has been a master at sandbagging, blowing past Wall Street's seemingly ambitious profit targets in every single quarter since going public nearly two years ago.

EPS

Analyst Est.

% Surprise

Q3 2007

$0.62

$0.53

17%

Q2 2007

$0.60

$0.45

33%

Q1 2007

$0.38

$0.32

19%

Q4 2006

$0.33

$0.28

18%

Q3 2006

$0.36

$0.27

33%

Q2 2006

$0.33

$0.25

32%

Q1 2006

$0.26

$0.12

117%

Q4 2005

$0.16

$0.11

45%

Source: Thomson First Call.

Chipotle is a quick-service monster when it comes to efficiency. Mature stores average a whopping $1.7 million in annualized sales. Restaurant operating margins clocked in at a healthy 23% this past quarter.

You can't credit the niche, since seasoned operators have been burned with lesser concepts. Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) never got Baja Fresh to pan out. CKE Restaurants (NYSE:CKR) has struggled with La Salsa. Jack in the Box (NYSE:JBX) has a potential winner in Qdoba, but it's still a far cry from the fiscal poetry in motion that is Chipotle.

Yes, there is a free lunch
Walking away satisfied -- in every sense of the word -- I couldn't help noticing that the Chipotle was just a few doors down from Yum! Brands' (NYSE:YUM) Taco Bell. Comparing the two would be heresy, of course. Besides, a new Qdoba opened this summer just a few doors down from a Baja Fresh here in downtown Coral Gables.

I also didn't give a whole lot of thought to the building itself. It's haunted, you see. Sub shop Schlotzsky's was a tenant for a few years. Krispy Kreme (NYSE:KKD) moved in after that. I never saw lines this long for sandwiches or doughnuts.

Sure, the Chipotle lines will cool once the registers start ringing come Friday afternoon. That's when the cash-based grand opening takes place. I hear that the first 100 people in line will get free Chipotle T-shirts.

Hmmm.

How badly do I need a free T-shirt?

Related Foolishness:

Chipotle was recommended in both Motley Fool Hidden Gems and Rule Breakers earlier this year. It has more than doubled in both cases. Which of the two stock research services is the right one for you? Check out either one with a free 30-day trial subscription offer. Free burritos? Free newsletters? What is this world coming to?

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz can walk to a Salsarita or jog to a Baja Fresh and a pair of Qdobas, but he prefers the now short drive to his local Chipotle. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.