Steve Ells opened the original Chipotle Mexican Grill
at 1644 East Evans Avenue, an old Dolly Madison location, in 1993, kicking off more than two decades of growth and influence over how Americans perceive fast food. The tiny burrito outlet closed its doors on May 18, but only temporarily: Employees needed more work space, and the restaurant chain needed to update its flagship store with modern kitchen equipment. And on Thursday, September 7, Chipotle will reopen the space and once again begin serving the University of Denver and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Eric Sailor, construction manager for Chipotle, says that about twenty weeks of work were compressed into a fourteen-week schedule. Most of that work went into excavating a deeper basement to expand the food-prep area, though, so customers won't notice too many changes. "We want that person who went to DU twenty years ago to walk in and feel comfortable here," Sailor notes.
Before: A steep ladder led from a trap door into a low-ceilinged basment.
After: A new stairwell houses autographed floor beams from the old basement.
After: The new basement has room for a prep kitchen, walk-in cooler and office.
The original basement had low ceilings with exposed wooden floor joists — many of them covered in employee signatures over the years — and masonry walls. Construction crews removed three feet of dirt by hand and then built a modern prep kitchen, complete with a walk-in cooler, and replaced a rickety ladder and trap door with a new stairwell. One wall of the stairwell now displays the autographed floor joists behind glass, minus the signature of Chipotle founder Ells; that particular piece of wood will be on display at corporate headquarters.
The main kitchen on the ground floor is about 30 percent larger than the original, so the dining room is slightly smaller than before the remodel. But the order counter is just as it was in 1993, without the buffet-style line that most Chipotle guests experience. "That design came about with store number two [at 745 Colorado Boulevard]," explains director of communications Chris Arnold. "It was more just a quirk of the design at the time."
Some things never change.
The original store will reopen at 11 a.m. tomorrow for business as usual — except for one innovation available this Thursday, and this Thursday only: If your last name is Evans, you can score a free burrito (or other meal order) simply by showing your current ID.
While you're there, try the queso, which Chipotle rolled out in early August but has since tweaked to improve the flavor and texture. The company will launch its much-requested queso at all locations across the country on September 12.