Posted by: nickgerlich | April 4, 2008

CHEEP-OAT-LAY

It’s risky business having a name that is often mispronounced. Without doubt the most butchered business name on the street these days is Chipotle, the custom burrito shop. I wish I had a dime for each time I heard someone call it CHIP-OLD-TEE.

Because if I did, I could go buy lunch next time I’m in Dallas.

ChipotleSo what’s so special about Chipotle? Lots. It is basically the burrito version of Subway, where nothing is mass produced, and everything is made to order. In a hurry? Tough. For food this good, ya gotta wait.

With a streamlined menu that features only burritos, burrito bowls, tacos, and salads, it’s almost like pulling into the Spam Diner…except that Chipotle is good. Way good. And there are no Vikings in sight. (If you need a refresher, this is a reference to a Monty Python skit.)

Chipotle was started in Denver in the early-90s, scooped up by McDonald’s, and then later spun off as a separate entity a couple of years ago. They are on pace to have 840 stores by year’s end.

But what really sets them apart from their fast food brethren is CEO Steve Ells’s commitment to natural food. As lauded in Fast Company’s ode to the burrito boy, Ells is making rapid progress toward his goal of selling only humanely-raised meats that are free of chemicals and hormones. At present they are at 100% of target for pork, 80% for chicken, and 50% for beef. About the only thing standing in their way is that there is a shortage of such meats, and Chipotle has had to resort to importing some from Canadian ranchers.

Being green is not just for tree huggers anymore. Even Wal-Mart has committed itself to the task, recently launching its own private label organic coffees and organic soy milk, as well as selling a user-friendly commuter bike for $109.

Chipotle’s business model has resonated with customers, who don’t mind ponying up $6-7 for lunch or waiting in line while their burritos are made to order. Inside the decor is decidedly industrial, with a combination of naked corrugated sheet metal and blonde wood covering the walls, painted concrete flooring, and exposed duct work and electrical conduit. And the quirky artwork almost defies description, which each store being unique. The simple chairs and tables evoke an IKEA-Goes-To-Lunch vibe.

My only wish is that I were a few hundred miles closer to one. Sure, Amarillo’s Sharky’s is good, and Freebirds downstate is a lot of fun, but this is the real deal. The mainstreaming of green just gets my stomach to rumbling.

Dr “Make Mine On Whole Wheat, Please” Gerlich

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