It’s been a rough few years for Chipotle, the Mexican food chain that was the darling of the industry for most of the past two decades as it’s been hit with a seemingly endless amount of bad press and a customer base that has seemingly grown tired of it’s relatively limited menu. Despite that limited menu, though, Chipotle at it’s peak was the model for what a Mexican chain could be and because of that it was met with a ton of copycats and competition that with the scandals that have plagued it in recent years (mostly food-borne illness generated scandals) have brought Chipotle essentially to the precipice of bankruptcy and beyond that, of completely collapsing. So, with that in mind, get your small intestine ready as we’re going to delve into the Untold Truth that is Chipotle with ten facts that you might have never known if not for your friends here at BabbleTop! Oh, and just so you know, Guacamoles extra.
10. The Founder, Steve Ells, is a “Real” Chef
Chipotle was founded by Steve Ells, who attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and after that he landed a gig that would change his life as a line cook for Jeremiah Tower at Stars in San Francisco. It was there that he learned not only how to cook Mexican dishes like Taquerias and “San Francisco Burritos” but also, and perhaps most importantly, how immensely popular they are both inside and outside of the Mission District of San Francisco (the Mission district is famous for it’s taquerias and Mexican food in general thanks to it’s high concentration of Salvadorian, Guatemalan and Nicaraguan people and restaurants). After acquiring a loan of $85,000 from his father, Ells opened the first Chipotle in Denver, Colorado near the University of Denver using what he had learned at Jeremiah Tower and from there he was able to test his version of the San Francisco and Mission burrito and almost immediately he realized that he had a hit on his hands, opening the second Chipotle location a little under two years after the first using solely money from the first store and not from a loan, which is generally unheard of in the restaurant industry.
9. He Needed to Sell 110 Burritos a Day, Almost Instantly He Was Selling Ten Times That
The first Chipotle restaurant was opened in 1993 near the University of Denver thanks to a loan from Steve Ells’ father and the techniques he learned while at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and more importantly while working in the Mission District in San Francisco which is world famous for it’s Mission Burritos and Hispanic Food thanks to the blend of Latin American countries. While $85,000 is a relatively small loan especially when the costs of opening a new restaurant are taken into account, Ells and his father realized that he’d need to sell 107 burritos a day to break even at his first location near the University of Denver. While it was still only a one location restaurant at that point, people in the early-to-mid 90’s weren’t used to getting high quality Mexican fast food, especially not with fresh ingredients that you can see while the chef is making your order and it was a combination of those factors that lead Chipotle to explode nearly overnight. After just a month in business Ells has stated that he was making over 1,000 burritos a day, which is ten times the amount he needed to break even and was enough to allow him to open a second location in a year and a half without having to take out a loan. While the third location was opened thanks to a loan, his father clearly saw that he had a winning concept and decided to invest another $1.5 million into his sons’ restaurants, which clearly has paid itself back in spades over the years.
8. The First Chipotle was Located inside an Ice Cream Shoppe with a Famous Name
As we’ve learned, the first Chipotle restaurant opened in 1993 thanks to Steve Ells, an well-trained chef who learned the ropes in the Mission District in San Francisco, California. The location he chose was near the University of Denver and was a location with a lot of history behind it as it was once named Dolly Madison Ice Cream. Dolly Madison was the First Lady of the United States back when James Madison was in office and she actually served Ice Cream at her husband’s inaugural ball way back in 1813. Because people didn’t have refridgerators let alone freezers back then the concept of ice cream was completely foreign, because of that Madison is widely credited with popularizing ice cream with the masses and so it’s just a weird coincidence that the person that is credited with popularizing the “Mission Burrito” to the masses set up shop in a restaurant named after the woman who was famous for popularizing ice cream. If the name Dolly Madison sounds familiar and you’re not a history buff it’s because Hostess Brands, the people behind Twinkies, also have a bakery as part of their business known as Dolly Madison Bakery (which is also based on the first lady) and while it’s not actually connected to the first lady herself (as it was founded in 1937 and she was alive in the early part of the 19th Century, it was based on the brand of ice cream that was named after her. Dolly Madison nearly disappeared back when Hostess announced it’s plans to go out of business in 2012, however it was saved along with Twinkies by Apollo Global Management when they acquired nearly everything Hostess in January of 2013.
7. The Interior Looks Rough for a Reason
If you could choose one word to describe the interior of a Chipotle you’d most likely come up with a word like “rough”, “Industrial” or “Tetanus” and while a lot of restaurants spend thousands upon thousands of dollars to create a theme and it very well could’ve been a concscious choice, the reality is that because of the limited budget that Chipotle founder Steve Ells had when he opened the first Chipotle, he couldn’t afford to hire an interior decorator or to buy fancy interior decor. Instead most of the original Chipotle was decorated with items from the hardware store which explains all of the metal and junction boxes. Speaking of those junction boxes the original light fixtures were a combination of metal junction boxes and porcelain lamp holders that contained a single halogen bulb, something that was replicated across the country as Chipotle expanded. So, they sometimes say that it costs a lot of money to look cheap and apparently that wasn’t the case in terms of at least the first Chipotle as the items in those early restaurants were actually what they appeared to be. Whether or not that’s safe or wise doesn’t really matter as it clearly worked and isn’t something that Chipotle has moved away from over 25 years later. They also say that it’s more important to stand out than to blend in and it’s that decor that gives Chipotle a distinct feeling and ambience and so perhaps Ells went into the wrong business when he chose cooking over home decor.
6. They Weren’t Always Anti-Biotic Free
One of the reasons that Chipotle initially blew up onto the scene was it’s commitment to antibiotic free chicken. You see, in order to keep their animals healthy and to limit losses due to diseases farmers have historically force fed their livestock a ton of antibiotics, which is partially the reason that bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotitcs in both animals and humans (as humans are actually relatively similar internally to pigs/hogs). One could say that Chipotle was one of the main reasons that antibiotic free livestock became as popular a concept as it has been, with most restaurants fast food or otherwise committing to using antibiotic free chicken/livestock in recent years (with McDonald’s doing the same for it’s Chicken McNuggets). So you may be surprised to hear that the concept wasn’t immediate for Chipotle, in fact it took a good six-years for Chipotle to move towards antibiotic free chicken, after founder Steve Ells read an article in The Art of Eating about farmers in Iowa raising hogs in “super-regulated environments”. Ells asked to taste some of the pork from those pigs and realized that they tasted a lot better and so after that he started the decision to focus on fresh ingredients and antibiotic free meat, right before the turn of the millenium. Billions and Billions of chickens and pigs have those delicious Iowan pigs to thank for that, or maybe they don’t since they might be getting sick without the medication, either way. But Chipotle is so well known for it’s antibiotic free stance that Ells has testified in front of Congress about the practice and what he thinks it means for the future of farming.
5. Free Cat Toy!
If you’ve ever wondered why basically every single ad on television or in print has so much small print, this story will basically answer that for you. Back in 1998, before Chipotle became the household name that it is today, they ran an ad in print that showed a rolled up tin-foil ball that stated “Free Cat Toy with Every Purchase”. Now, if you’ve ever been to Chipotle you’ll get the joke, as they serve their products in tin foil, and thus you’re always left with a ball of tin-foil (and lots and lots of shame) after you’re done eating there. However, people didn’t get the joke and actually started showing up to Chipotle locations asking for the cat toy around that time and so they had to stop running the ad, which considering we’re still talking about it twenty years later means it was either genius or a complete disaster. Either way it did get people in the door so it couldn’t have been all bad, although if the internet has taught us anything it’s that you don’t want to piss off cat people, so I’m sure they ended up handing out a few free burritos to the more particular of the bunch and then adding a bunch of small print to their ads in the future.
4. It Pays to Manage a Chipotle
Sometimes you hear that progressive companies might not live up to their ideals when it comes to paying their own employees or really even treating those people with respect (We’re looking at you, American Apparel), but when it comes to Chipotle that really isn’t the case, thankfully. In fact, Chipotle can end up paying you really well if you’re a general manager through a program called the “Elite Restauranteur Program”. That program attempts to recruit new general managers who in turn are meant to recruit and retain new talent and it awards them an initial bonus and stock options as well as a bonus of $10,000 if they hire someone who also ends up becoming a general manager. While that may sound like a pyramid scheme keep in mind that they Aztec and Mayans did in fact have pyramids of their own, even if they ended up looking more like parrallelagrams than standard pyramids. Either way, this sort of goes against the idea that working for a fast-food restaurant doesn’t pay, as long as you’re in charge of the entire restaurant (or multiple restaurants) and the people you hire end up doing the exact same thing, you’ll be fine. While that always runs a risk that you’ll be replaced by your own recruit, it’s probably worth it for the chance that you’ll get $10,000 on your next paycheck. Think of all the extra guacamole you’ll be able to buy!
3. It has a Secret Menu… But there’s a catch
If you’ve spent anytime on the internet you’ll know that most fast-food restaurants can make items that aren’t on the menu. People call that a “Secret Menu” but really all it is is a mixture of whatever they have on the menu. Like adding Chicken McNuggets to your Big Mac (as in, under the bread), and while you can’t ask for just anything (as they have to be able to ring it up in the system), most places can be pretty accomodating when it comes to making something like the “Air, Land and Sea Sandwich” from McDonald’s that includes a beef patty, a Filet O’ Fish Patty and a Chicken patty (get it?). So, like most fast food restaurants, Chipotle has a secret menu but unlike most restaurants Chipotle’s secret menu is really only one item. The good news is that that item is the Quesarito, which is exactly what it sounds like, a burrito with a quesadilla where the tortilla should be. While it sounds like that Taco Bell taco that has chicken instead of a tortilla this one isn’t that bad for you and is actually quite delicious. Just don’t ask for it when there’s a super long line as it takes time to create and they may refuse to make it if they’re crunched for time. Luckily for you, since 2016 most Chipotle’s aren’t that busy anymore, so just remember it’s the Quesarito and it very well may save Chipotle in the end.
2. You Can Get Free Burritos Everyday for a Year… If…
It’s said that only when you’re rich and famous will people begin to give you things for free and perhaps the best example of that is the Free Card that Chipotle gives it’s famous fans. That’s right, if you’re famous and have made it clear that you love Chipotle they’ll send you a card that is good for free Chipotle “for life”, although it is said that the cards actually expire after one year which is about the amount of time that most people are at the peak of their fame. A few famous people have posted about their “for life” cards including Bryce Harper, who plays baseball for the Washington Nationals and Steven Tyler, the lead singer of Aerosmith. Why would Chipotle give away these “for life” and where did the name come from if they’re not actually good for life? The answer is that famous people can influence other people and by sending these cards out to people who have talked about Chipotle in interviews before they’re increasing the chance that that famous people will not only post about the card on their social media but also that they’ll attend Chipotle once or twice that year and post about it on their social media. The reason they’re called “For Life” cards is mainly due to a misunderstanding by some (like the aforementioned Bryce Harper) who thought his card was good for life while it was actually just good for a year. Either way, that’s one year of free Chipotle and that’s really more than enough to last someone a lifetime, especially considering all the plumbing costs that you’ll accrue over the course of that year.
1. McDonald’s Does NOT Own Chipotle
Around the turn of the century/Millenium people started talking saying that Chipotle had been purchased by none other than McDonald’s. There was a lot of fear from the Chipotle purists that McDonald’s would ruin their favorite restaurant by either changing the menu or introducing less quality ingredients in the name of making a quick buck. Now there’s some truth to that but it’s not exactly what you think. Back around that time when Chipotle went into hardcore expansion mode it needed financial backers to help it do just that and McDonald’s happened to be one of the companies that put their money behind Chipotle. That doesn’t mean, though, that McDonald’s OWNS Chipotle, at all, it just means that they made a lot of money from Chipotle’s expansion around the early-to-mid aughts and that it helped them grow into new markets by sharing their market data. So, while it’d be easy to blame McDonald’s for the problems that Chipotle has had as of late, the reality is that those were all done by the same people who originally started Chipotle and that McDonald’s, if anything, is just responsible for the fact that