The ten spiciest moments in Chipotle's twenty-year history
The original Chipotle Mexican Grill, on East Evans.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Colorado's biggest homegrown success story, is on a roll. To mark the twentieth anniversary of the day its first store opened — July 13, 2013 — it's introducing the Adventurrito, twenty days of fun, games and prizes, including twenty years of free burritos. To help get the party started, and as thanks for adding those premium margs to the menu, we've wrapped up the top ten spicy moments in Chipotle history:
- Meet the man behind the music at more than 1,400 Chipotles
- For Chipotle's twentieth anniversary, founder Steve Ells discusses the ingredients behind its legacy
- For Chipotle's birthday, Westword built a two-pound burrito
10. Chipotle's first TV commercial — get the message? Chipotle has always relied on wildly successful promotions and customer word of mouth to grow the brand, which obviously works. But in 2012 it ran its very first nationally televised commercial during the Grammy Awards ceremony. This was a huge step for the ever-expanding company, and a huge f*ck-you to big agriculture, the fast-food industry, other restaurants and possibly some people's mamas, because the commercial spot featured a farmer and some adorable pigs going from a sustainably, environmentally conscious farming model to a scary, institutional, industrial farm, complete with the adorable pigs locked in a cage while Willie Nelson's "The Scientist" twanged in the background. The commercial was riveting — and a little mysterious because Chipotle wasn't mentioned until the end — and proved that tomatoes aren't the only big balls at Chipotle.
9. Chipotle's pork gets hugs, not drugs: In 1999, Chipotle founder Steve Ells had an epiphany about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (industrial animal ghettos that you see in those documentaries) and took the company out of the antibiotic/added-hormones-in-pigs business and straight into the naturally raised pork paradigm, which caused a price jump for the chain's signature carnitas. But customers showed their support for the new practice in the best way possible: by buying more carnitas burritos. Today Chipotle is a fast-casual bastion of naturally raised meat, organic produce and hormone-free dairy products, and even some of the beans it serves are gently tilled and raised.
8. Chipotle outs GMOs: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a hot topic right now, especially with American consumers asking for more food-ingredient and labeling transparency, and this year Chipotle stepped up and decided that all ingredients in its menu items be labeled, including GMOs — making it the first fast-food chain to do so. (So far, though, the info is only online.)
7. Chipotle introduces digital burrito-surfing: In 2005, before some restaurant CEOs learned how to use flash drives, Chipotle set up online ordering on its website, enabling fans to pre-order and pay, then show up at local stores and totally line-jump for pick-up. In 2009, Chipotle even got an app for that, releasing an iPhone application that finds nearby locations, places orders and allows pre-pay options.
6. Chipotle in for a penny, in for a pound: Chipotle has not been entirely free of controversy, and before 2012, the company was accused of "Chipocrisy" by Food With Integrity, when execs were lukewarm about an agreement to join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' Fair Food Program, designed to improve working conditions for farmworkers in Florida with wage increases — including adding a penny to the price of each pound of tomatoes. The CIW subtly and not-so-subtly pressured Chipotle (an open letter, buckets and tomato stamps were involved), and last year the two factions made nice and Chipotle signed on. The result: guilt-free tomatoes.
5. Chipotle's Steve Ells stands in judgment: In 2010, the vastly overqualified Steve Ells joined the panel on America's Next Great Restaurant, putting his money where most people put their mouths. The NBC show featured contestants with big restaurant-concept dreams competing to get their own slice of the chain pie in Hollywood, Minneapolis and New York City. Ells teamed up with chefs Curtis Stone, Lorena Garcia and Bobby Flay to mentor the eager recruits and, in true reality-TV style, there were business and cooking challenges. Too bad the winning restaurant flamed out in weeks.
4. Chipotle converts Nate the Great! The culinary world — or at the very least a legion of Food Network enthusiasts — was rocked when Food & Wine magazine's Best New Chef, James Beard Award-winner and Food Network darling Nate Appleman went from being a cocky, uber-competitive warrior on The Next Iron Chef to taking a nine-to-fiver at Chipotle, where he now does research development and sings the company's praises.
3. Chipotle's treat — the Blessed Boorito: The only thing better than getting a $2 Chipotle burrito on Halloween, just for stopping into a local store in a costume, is getting a free one. But alas, after a few years of giving away free burritos by the wagonload every All Saint's Day, Chipotle decided to kill off free in favor of discount. Now the Boorito costs you $2, but the company donates a fat wagonload of cash to its charitable arm, the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes food health and education, as well as support for family farms, animal welfare and the environment.
2. Chipotle tells the Boy Scouts of America to take a hike: Chipotle earned a merit badge for anti-discrimination this year when execs pulled the chain's support — $4,200 worth of donated coupons — from the Utah Boy Scouts' annual Scout-O-Rama because at the time the BSA officially excluded gays from joining. Chipotle didn't make a big deal of the move, but it lived up to its own anti-discrimination policy, which states that the company should not support organizations that exclude based on sexual orientation.
1. A Burrito Is Born: Steve Ells didn't plan on rolling burritos for a career, but he thought a variation on the tiny street taquerias in San Francisco might work here in Denver. And so he opened the first Chipotle Mexican Grill with a simple menu of reasonably priced gourmet burritos, with beer to wash them down. Today, with 1,400 stores around the world, it's hard to remember what life was like in 1993 B.C. —Before Chipotle.
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