Chipotle is the great democratizer. Unlike other fast food companies, our home-grown burrito chain attracts a wide cast of characters into its space shuttle-like eateries. It’s earth-friendly enough for the hippies. Quick enough for the corporate lunch break drones. And cheap enough for the broke folks. The Barack Obama of the food world, it’s likeable, accessible, and you can support it without a shred of guilt.
But in November, Chipotle initiated an experiment that could eventually topple that balance, and thrust the company into extreme hippie-dom. The culprit? Brown rice. Over the past two and a half months, 20 Denver Chipotles replaced their oh-so-fragrant white rice with its “nuttier” brown counterpart in a test to see whether all of its restaurants nationwide should make the switch. “We were looking at it for a couple of reasons,” says Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold. “One, we really like the taste. And two, brown rice generally has more nutritional properties than white rice does.” Though the company fielded plenty of compliments for its health-savvy efforts, it also learned the down side to brown rice when long time Chipotle devotees questioned “why we would tinker with our formula.” Brown rice also turned out to be a bit of a nuisance, taking about twice as long to cook as white. Last week, Chipotle cut off the test run, allowing the restaurants to use up their brown stock before transitioning back to white. But that doesn’t mean that brown rice is off the table, so to speak. The company plans to test the rice in other markets before making a final decision. No word on whether the whole wheat tortilla is next.
-- Naomi Zeveloff