Tag Archives: Chipotle

Chipotle II? Testing ShopHouse

By Pete Williams

Grilled chicken satay

WASHINGTON -The sleek steel-and-wood architecture is similar. So is the assembly line front counter, the meat raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones, and the gourmet spin on familiar cuisine.

There’s no mention of Chipotle Mexican Grill anywhere at ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, which the Denver-based burrito empire opened here near Dupont Circle in September. But there’s no mistaking the formula.

I’m a huge fan of Chipotle, having eaten there probably close to 1,000 times, almost one outing per each of its 1,200 outlets. I love the burritos, love CEO Steve Ells’ food-with-integrity philosophy, and love how such tasty food served fast can be high-performance health food if you load the burrito bowl properly (no tortilla or sour cream, light cheese, etc.)

That’s why I was  pumped to try ShopHouse, which has a similar build-your-own meal template, and is named for the buildings in Southeast Asia cities where families live above the markets they run on the street level.

At ShopHouse, everything comes in a bowl, a deeper, rounder bowl than at Chipotle. Start by choosing either meat (grilled chicken satay, pork & chicken meatballs, or grilled steak) or tofu over jasmine rise, brown rice, chilled rice noodles, or a salad.

Choose a veggie (broccoli, eggplant & Thai basil, green bean, or spicy charred corn), add a sauce (spicy red curry, green curry, or tamarind vinaigrette), a garnish (green papaya slaw, pickles, herb salad), and finally a topping (crispy garlic, toasted rice, crushed peanuts).

It requires a little more thinking than ordering a burrito at Chipotle, but it’s a pretty streamlined process. Or you can make things easy by taking any of the meats/tofu and having a sandwich.

I went with grilled chicken satay, broccoli, tamarind vinaigrette, pickles, and crispy garlic. The result was something spicier than a typical Chipotle burrito, requiring a drink refill, and something I’m anxious to try again.

It was a bit of a surprise not to find a line at ShopHouse late afternoon as I had an early dinner with my wife and father-in-law before attending a Washington Nationals game. Apparently the place is crushed during lunchtime.

I couldn’t help but think back to 2002, when my Core Performance co-author and fitness mentor Mark Verstegen introduced me to Chipotle in Phoenix when there were fewer than 200 stores. I wish that had inspired me to buy Chipotle stock when it went public in 2006 or in the immediate years thereafter, but if nothing else I gained an appreciation for how fast food can be health food.

ShopHouse interior in DC

Ells likes to say that the success of Chipotle is due not to burritos but because of the restaurant’s philosophies. “It works because of our system: fresh, local, sustainable ingredients, cooked with classic methods in an open kitchen where the customer can see everything, and served in a pleasing environment,” he told Fortune.com recently.

Do people want to eat Asian as often as Mexican? I probably would if there was a ShopHouse here in the Tampa Bay area, though I’d probably eat at Chipotle less. Such cannibalization apparently isn’t a concern. A nearby Chipotle on Dupont Circle hasn’t seen its sales suffer in the nine months since ShopHouse opened.

Unfortunately, ShopHouse expansion will be slow, with the second store not coming until September and also in D.C.

We won’t hold our breath on ShopHouse coming to Florida. Chipotle was 12 years old and had about 500 stores when it finally came to Orlando and Tampa in 2005.

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait so long this time.

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Chipotle’s “Super Bowl” Promotion

Chipotle's latest ad

By Pete Williams

Chipotle Mexican Grill is having some fun with the NFL’s aggressive protection of its Super Bowl trademark, promoting a burrito party pack for the “Super Big Internationally Televised Professional Football Bowl Game.”

There it is, the words “Super” and “Bowl” in a promotion around the NFL’s signature event. The Shield goes after anyone who uses “Super Bowl” in advertising, thus the use of “Big Game” and other generic language.

Will the league sue Chipotle or at least send a cease-and-desist letter?

Probably not. The NFL knows that if it targets Chipotle, a wildly-popular and successful national chain based in Tebowville (Denver), it will generate a huge amount of publicity, which only would benefit Chipotle.

Plus, it’s not like Chipotle is some local sports bar owner. It’s an $11 billion company that can fight back.

Not that Chipotle needs the publicity. Since its founding in 1993, Chipotle has spent precious little on marketing and advertising, relying on word of mouth. Its stock is up eightfold since November of 2008 and this morning set another all-time high. It has more than 1,200 stores, including several in Europe, and its new Asian-themed restaurant, Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, has met with rave reviews since opening last year in the nation’s capital. Endurance athletes love Chipotle, which has sponsored a Tour de France team.

The NFL has every right to protect its trademark. The irony, of course, is that “Super” Bowl is a corny term, something Greg Brady might have coined while playing touch football with Peter and Bobby on the family’s backyard AstroTurf.

Pete Rozelle knew this. According to “America’s Game,” the definitive NFL history written by Michael MacCambridge, the former NFL commissioner hated the term “Super Bowl.” The title was invented in 1966 by LaMar Hunt, the Kansas City Chiefs owner, after watching his children play with a Super Ball, a hot novelty item of that time.

Rozelle, according to MacCambridge’s book, was a stickler for grammar and thought the word super, like “neat” or “gee-whiz” was a word that lacked sophistication. But before the league could come up with another title for its championship, headline writers, commentators and even players started using “Super Bowl.”

The other irony of Chipotle latching onto the Super Bowl is that it’s a rare instance where the NFL is associated with healthy food. There’s not one NFL sponsor that could be considered healthy food or drink. (Even Gatorade isn’t something that should be consumed by anyone other than hardcore athletes.) It’s difficult if not impossible to find a healthy food option at an NFL venue outside of perhaps the luxury boxes and maybe the club levels. When NFL teams give out freebie T-shirts at games, they distribute a single size, the one that reflects the bodies of most of their customers.

Extra large.

The NFL promotes sedentary, sit-on-the-couch behavior perhaps more than any American business. NFL programming dominates the list of television’s highest-rated shows. It’s not a stretch to say that the NFL is partially responsible for the obesity epidemic.

Heck, the NFL is the only major sports league featuring a significant percentage of obese participants. Broadcasters can talk all day about the athleticism of 340-pound linemen, but there are countless stories of ex-NFL players who struggle with their health because they can’t lose the weight.

Then there’s Chipotle, which features meat and dairy products from animals raised without hormones and antibiotics, along with produce that’s locally sourced and organic wherever possible. Company founder Steve Ells has challenged the food industry to get away from factory farming and processed garbage. The success of Chipotle indicates that there’s a demand for it.

Ells is a fan of the late Steve Jobs, who upended the computer, music, and phone industries. Ells might have a bigger impact if he can achieve his goal of changing the way America eats. Already fast food chains are scrambling to change. So too are fern bar, sit-down restaurants who have seen Chipotle’s fast-casual, all-natural concept erode their business.

As for the NFL, it should embrace Chipotle’s Super Bowl promotion.

Since the lawyers are quiet, we’re guessing The Shield already has.

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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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All Chipotle, All the Time (Free Food!)

By Pete Williams

Chipotles Steve Ells

Steve Ells is the creator of Chipotle Mexican Grill, which has reinvented the concept of fast food by providing quality, healthy, (if salty) food from sustainable sources.

Not only has Chipotle blown up in recent years, it’s been one of Wall Street’s hottest stocks in the last 18 months. As someone who was introduced to Chipotle while writing the book Core Performance with Mark Verstegen in Phoenix in 2002, long before the IPO, I try not to think about that lost investment opportunity.

I’ve eaten there an average of twice a week since Chipotle came to the Tampa Bay area in 2005 and probably have hit at least two dozen different Chipotles around the country. I get a lot of grief for eating there on trips to the restaurant capital of the world, New York City, but where else can you find quick, healthy, quality food at a reasonable price in Gotham?

Nobody is more passionate about Chipotle than I am, though as I wrote last month it’s important to keep an eye on your salt intake at Chipotle – or at least your salt intake the rest of the day you eat there.

One of the brilliant things about Chipotle is that it spends little on advertising and marketing, though it’s been a longtime sponsor and supporter of cycling.

Now, if the trailer for NBC’s new show “American’s Next Great Restaurant” is any indication, Ells looks like he might be the breakout star of the program, a cross between Donald Trump and Simon Cowell. Ells is a fascinating entrepreneurial story, taking $85,000 to open his first Chipotle in Denver and parlaying it into a company 17 years later with a market cap of $8 billion.

To celebrate tonight’s debut, Chipotle is giving a buy-one-get-one-free coupon to anyone who watches the 90-second trailer for the show.

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