Thousand Oaks, California-based Baja Fresh Mexican Grill said it plans to open at least 16 new restaurants in the Chicago area over the next five years, through a partnership with Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, which will develop and operate the restaurants.

The Mexican quick-casual dining chain said it has signed an area-development agreement with Richard Melman, Lettuce Entertain You's chairman and founder, and his partner, CEO Steve Ottmann. The restaurants, planned for Chicago and certain northern suburbs, will join five Baja Fresh Mexican Grill restaurants already open in the Chicago suburbs.

Greg Dollarhyde, Baja president and CEO, commented: "Rich and Steve have a unique sense of what the public wants. I'm excited to have [them] on the team."

Founded in 1990, Baja Fresh currently owns, operates and franchises 171 Baja Fresh Mexican Grill restaurants in 16 states and the District of Columbia. This month, it became a wholly owned subsidiary of Wendy's International, the Columbus, Ohio-based owner and operator of Wendy's and Tim Hortons restaurant chains.