Tortilla: Imitation as Sincere Flattery

Last week, my wife and I were vacationing in Dublin, Ireland, when we spotted a restaurant on Grafton St. called Tortilla. The shop-lined pedestrian walkway in City Centre is nearly always jammed with tourists. So despite heavy competition from every side — including a sprawling McDonald’s — it’s an ideal site for a restaurant.

But a quasi-Mexican fast-food joint billing itself as a “real” spot for food Americans take for granted? Bear in mind that not every tourist is American. And that Mexican food in the form of burritos and tacos is enormously popular throughout much of the world.

In fact, it is arguable that Tortilla’s design was real, if copying fast-casual’s build-your-own format can said to be an accurate representation of an American restaurant. (It can, of course.) Use the images below to judge for yourself.

The restaurant isn’t a one-off by any means. The Dublin unit is one of about 30. The company, founded by an American couple in London nine years ago, is backed by London-based private equity firm Quilvest. Many units are in the London area. Tortilla doesn’t franchise locally, and officials expect to open the first Scotland outpost this month. It does, however, franchise in the Middle East, having agreed last year to a 30-store development deal with Dubai-based Eathos.

An employees builds a burrito in the Dublin unit.
Rough-hewn wood and beer cases give Tortilla a laid back vibe.
An odd place for empties, but the message is clear. Drink up!
Note the small lock on the cage door. And the fact that this beer is warm.
Clever copy on a tent outside the restaurant on Grafton St.

— David Farkas

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