Chipotle Empire Grows

By Pete Williams

Chipotle's newest location: Countryside

Chipotle will open a new restaurant on Tuesday, which isn’t exactly headline-grabbing news. The Denver-based chain is up over 1,200 stores and now is in London and coming soon to Paris. The company recently opened a new Asian-themed restaurant in D.C. called the Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen.

But this particular new Chipotle will be in Clearwater, Florida, across from the Countryside Mall, much closer to my home than my current six-mile commute, meaning I’ll somehow eat at Chipotle more than I already do.

Chipotle has close ties to the endurance sports world, even though the company does precious little in terms of advertising and marketing. For starters, it’s a favorite among endurance athletes because it’s tasty, high-quality performance fuel.

Company founder Steve Ells believes in using only meat and dairy products from animals that have been raised in family farms, not factory farms, which means they haven’t been confined and injected with hormones. Veggies are organic and locally sourced, wherever possible.

Ells, a classically-trained chef who starred in the recent reality series “America’s Next Great Restaurant,” is changing the way Americans eat fast food and for that he should be commended. Heck, he’s already receiving accolades for forcing the food industry to go back to nature and away from the processed food model that is making Americans fat and killing them. Last month The Wall Street Journal named Ells the 2011 Food Innovator of the Year for “bringing sustainable agriculture to the masses.”

Still, there are two myths about Chipotle still out there. The first is that it was created by McDonald’s. Nope, Ells launched Chipotle in 1993 out of a tiny property near the University of Denver. He did, however, take about $300 million in McDonald’s money as an investment early in the company’s history to fuel Chipotle’s growth. McDonald’s had no influence on the company and was happy to walk away with triple its investment when Chipotle went public in 2006.

The second myth is that the food is bad for you. Admittedly, it can be a lot of calories. The key is to opt for the bowl, skipping the tortilla, and go with just one scoop of rice. Choose either sour cream or guacamole, not both. Drink water instead of soda. Voila – world’s healthiest, tastiest fast food.

I get that exact burrito bowl with black beans, mild and corn salsas, light cheese, lettuce, and chicken, for $8.31. It’s tough to eat the processed, semi-fresh stuff coming out of Subway or Quiznos for that price.

Mark Verstegen introduced me to Chipotle in Phoenix in 2002 when we began work on our first Core Performance book. Since then I’ve eaten at Chipotle between 500 and 1,000 times, which brings us to our third Chipotle myth: that you’ll get sick of the food. Chipotle does not have many food options, but apparently there are more than 1,200 taco and burrito combinations they can make.

I’ve eaten at dozens of Chipotles and I’ve yet to see one busier than the one just off Wall Street, which makes sense since CMG has been one of the hottest stocks over the last three years – and one of my biggest non-investment regrets.

Chipotle has an upscale-yet-casual decor that’s perfect for business lunches. Brody Welte and I did much of the work for our Paddle Fit “vook” on stand-up paddleboarding at Chipotle in St. Pete. Mark Verstegen and I worked on a chunk of each of our five Core Performance books at a Chipotle in Phoenix.

I can’t wait to get started on another – perhaps from the new Chipotle Countryside.

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Filed under Nutrition, Training

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