First, it was the silverware.
For more than six years, Moe's Southwest Grill has been selling its burritos at Annapolis' historic City Dock, the waterfront store among the few "fast-casual" restaurant chains to successfully set up shop despite the historic district's ban on fast food.
But when Chipotle wanted to open a store a block away, Moe's owners hired an attorney to fight the application, contending the competing burrito joint was unequivocally a fast-food joint. Moe's first piece of evidence: Chipotle's environmentally friendly, compostable utensils.
Annapolis has what Mayor Joshua Cohen called a "nuanced" zoning code designed to allow for full-service restaurants but exclude drive-throughs and fast-food chains.
"I think most residents would agreed that we don't want a lot of fast food downtown because downtown has a unique character," Cohen said. "Even though some people might poke fun at the fact that the city is looking at whether they use silverware or plasticware, the law needs some way of defining what constitutes a fast-food use."
Chipotle offered to amend its plans, install a dishwasher and use regular silverware. Moe's came back with another salvo: takeout.
At a recent hearing before the city's Board of Appeals, Kevin Best, attorney for A Guy Named Moe LLC, pointed to Chipotle's online-ordering systems and burrito-by-the-box option as evidence that its carryout business would exceed the 10 percent threshold that distinguishes a fast-food place from a restaurant under city law.
Best scoffed at Chipotle's contention that it could limit takeout sales, and he predicted that midshipmen from the Naval Academy would be leaving "carrying two boxes each, enough to feed a brigade."
Chipotle's attorney, Alan Hyatt, contended that the company has 47 indoor seats and more on the patio, and plans to track its takeout sales to ensure they do not rise above 10 percent.
"This is a competitor that doesn't want to see competition come to town. That's all this is about," Hyatt told the city's Board of Appeals, which will hold a public deliberation on the case Jan. 16.
Questioned by board members, Best did not explain how Moe's — whose corporate website offers online ordering for the Annapolis location — did not qualify as fast food when Chipotle did.
"I can't answer that question," Best said. "I haven't done research on my client. I did research on the applicant."
Alderman Ross Arnett, who is not involved in the zoning decision, said he objects to Chipotle on the grounds that it's a chain restaurant, a type of business that he said has "never done well" in the city's historic downtown.
"I don't like chains," Arnett said. "It's hard to imagine George Washington walking up Main Street and encountering a blinking golden arch of McDonald's."
The city's planning department has recommended approving Chipotle's application, and the Annapolis Economic Development Council has weighed in, saying surveys suggest competition should be welcomed.
"We believe filling empty storefronts with credible businesses, whether the first of its kind in our City or the second or whatever number the marketplace demands, is in our town's best interest," wrote Laura Fritts, the development council's president and CEO.
Moe's attorney used a different section of the same report to highlight residents' opinion that there are enough restaurants downtown.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun