When Steve Ells opened the very first Chipotle Mexican Grill at 1644 East Evans Avenue seventeen years ago, he didn't anticipate it growing into a massive burrito-hawking chain, one that would infiltrate every city in the country and woo fans with sustainably-raised food that happens to taste damn good. No, Culinary Institute of America grad Ells just wanted to generate some cash for a "real restaurant," the kind with linen tablecloths and a good wine list. So he took a page from the book of burrito-mongers in San Francisco's Mission district and started making gourmet burritos and tacos in an old Dolly Madison ice cream shop near the University of Denver.
The Chipotle concept proved unstoppable. By the time I started working for the company in 2005, it had amassed hundreds of outlets, millions of fans and a mission: to change the way people think about and eat fast food.
And now, as the Chipotle empire continues to grow, Ells has announced something sure to make diehard fans swoom: He's planning to open another fast-casual restaurant concept sometime next year, keeping the same Chipotle values and quality while translating them to an Asian menu.
"Steve has thought off and on for many years about cuisines that might work well in the Chipotle model," says Chris Arnold, Chipotle's director of public relations. "This concept is really about good food from sustainable ingredients that's accessible in a way that's approachable by the mainstream. He's ready to test that on something else."
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The new restaurant will employ the Chipotle model, including interactive service and a system that allows customers to choose what goes into their own individual menu. The focus on quality ingredients from sustainable sources will also carry over.
The company is tight-lipped about specific details right now. "We want to leave a little mystery," Arnold explains. "We want people to discover the restaurant the way they discovered Chipotle."
So plans for the menu and initial location remain secret. Arnold says that Ells is working with just a handful of people within the company on the plans, which currently call for just one restaurant.
With a bit of luck, though, that restaurant, much like Chipotle, could take on a life of its own, growing into another high-quality chain in the fast-casual segment and, you know, changing the way people think about and eat fast food.