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DENVER-The Chipotle Mexican Grill chain, buoyed by higher earnings and same-store sales, plans to open between 110 and 120 new restaurants this year after opening 28 new locations in the first quarter of this year, company officials said Tuesday during a conference call in which they discussed the chain’s expansion plans and its latest quarterly earnings report. Chipotle reported results for the calendar and fiscal quarter that ended March 31.

Steve Ells, chairman and CEO of the Chipotle chain, attributed the company’s first-quarter results and its confidence in its expansion potential to a number of factors, primarily among them the company’s “food with integrity” initiative and efforts toward “building a culture which appeals only to our highest performing employees.” One facet of the “food with integrity” program is introducing items like naturally raised chicken, which Chipotle started with in Colorado and now serves in two-thirds of its restaurants.

Chipotle’s net income increased 55.7% to $12.4 million as earnings per share climbed to 38 cents per diluted share in comparison with 26 cents per share in the same quarter last year. Revenue increased 26.2% to $236.1 million versus the first quarter of 2006, as comparable store sales grew 8.3%. The company attributed the growth in comparable store sales primarily to an increase in customer visits.

According to Jack Hartung, chief finance and development officer, thanks to Chipotle’s “strong first quarter comparable restaurant sales increase” along with other positive results in the first quarter, the company is “increasing our 2007 outlook for comparable restaurant sales and new restaurant openings.” He added, “We remain confident in our ability to grow diluted earnings per share at an average annual rate of at least 25% over the long-term.”

Chipotle, which opened its first restaurant in 1993, now operates more than 600 locations.

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