Tag Archives: Steve Ells

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition

The Unlikely Vegetarian

By Pete Williams

I’m 36 hours away from making it through Lent without eating meat and consuming only trace amounts of dairy.

I’m by no means a by-the-book-Catholic, but in recent years I’ve used Lent as a challenge to make lifestyle changes. In 2010 and last year, I went without television. Not one minute. While I went back to watching TV on Easter Sunday both times, I found the experience cut down my television viewing considerably.

For years I’ve wanted to try a vegetarian or even a vegan diet. In January of 2011, I dealt with a kidney stone and even after cutting back on protein intake, tests last fall showed I still was consuming too much animal protein, which can lead to more stones. That’s incentive enough, but I also wanted to improve my performance in endurance sports and feel better overall.

A vegetarian diet can do all of those things and I figured Lent would offer a good 46-day challenge. I would drop meat altogether, but would eat fish and consume the occasional Mix1 protein recovery drink, which contains whey protein, a byproduct of cheese manufacturing. Other than that, no dairy, which wouldn’t be much of a stretch for someone who rarely consumes any. Jack LaLanne, who never consumed dairy and lived to 96, stressed that humans are the only animals to consume dairy after the suckling stage.

One of the salmon salads at Fitlife Foods

My Lenten experiment confirmed what I’ve long suspected. A vegan, vegetarian or “pescetarian” (vegetarian with fish) diet, like any other nutrition plan, is mostly about planning and habits. Most of us eat bad stuff not so much because we like to but because it’s ingrained in our lifestyles. In recent years I’ve cut out bread, pasta, and beer, realizing I consumed that stuff out of habit, not because I loved it. It’s easy to substitute things you prefer, especially when they’re better for you, such as additional veggies and the occasional glass of wine.

I figured the same thing would happen with giving up meat and that proved to be the case. I didn’t miss it at all and found it easy to resist, even last weekend at our neighbors’ annual pig roast. Of course, I had a few key weapons:

Vegan and vegetarian friendly

1. CHIPOTLE: I love eating at Chipotle Mexican Grill, which makes it easy to justify consuming meat since theirs comes from only farm-raised, grass-fed animals not injected with hormones and antibiotics. I typically get a burrito bowl with brown rice, black beans, fajita vegetables, chicken or carnitas (pork), along with mild and corn salsas, a sprinkling of cheese, lettuce, and guacamole. The chicken version comes to 805 calories, including 57 grams of protein and 2,150 mg of sodium. That’s a lot of protein and salt for anyone, especially someone who has had a kidney stone.

Eliminating the chicken and cheese, however, brought the burrito bowl down to 515 calories with just 17 grams of protein and 1,600 mg of sodium. My bill with a cup of water also dropped from nearly $9 to $6.69. That’s an incredible value. People spend more than that at fast food restaurants for 1,000 empty calories. Chipotle CEO Steve Ells has said he’s cut down on his meat consumption lately and after eating veggie burrito bowls, I can see how it’s an easy transition to make.

2. FITLIFE FOODS: Fitlife Foods, which has three locations in the Tampa Bay area, provides nutritious, ready-made meals packed full of nutrients. They cater to busy professionals and recreational athletes – company founder David Osterweil is a marathoner – and the nutrient-dense meals chef Andrew Ruga creates are designed for the high-performance athlete and professional.

I had been enjoying Fitlife’s chicken and beef dishes before Lent, but found the large versions of Miso Salmon (650 calories, 47g of protein), Citrus Salmon Salad (360 calories, 21g), and Lemon Pepper Tilapia (430 calories, 57g) made me forget about the meat.

Fitlife Foods founder David Osterweil

The tilapia, which comes with a side of green beans, packs a lot of protein. But since I usually went with one fish meal and one vegan dish a day, I didn’t worry about that.

The rest of my diet stayed intact: breakfast of oatmeal and a smoothie consisting of fruit, almonds, and almond butter; a lunch or dinner of black beans, sliced tomatoes, and lots of asparagus; snacks of Clif or Lara bars, fruit/almond butter, and my cheat treat of anything chocolate.

The results have been dramatic. The weight dropped from 163 to as low as 156.6, a figure I haven’t seen since the late 1980s. (I’m at 158.8 today). I fared well at two obstacle races in the last five weeks and despite getting a late jump on triathlon training for next weekend’s Escape from Fort DeSoto race season kickoff, I’m biking and swimming almost in mid-season form – not like someone who virtually ignored both all winter.

Best of all, the mysterious migraines I had in January and February have disappeared.

Nutrition plans are most effective when you can link them to feeling and performing better, not just looking better.

That’s why I just might make this Lenten experiment a permanent thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition, Training

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition, Training

Chipotle Creates “Chipotle Cultivate Foundation”

By Pete Williams

CMG: Furthering the cause

Chipotle Mexican Grill already has helped transform the way Americans eat with its”Food With Integrity” vision, using ingredients that wherever possible are sustainably grown and naturally raised.

Now the Denver-based company, which has dozens of restaurants in Florida, has created the “Chipotle Cultivate Foundation,” aimed at supporting people, organizations and institutions that are committed to making a better, more sustainable future.

“For more than a decade, we have been working to improve the nation’s food supply by finding more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients we use in our restaurants,” said Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle. “By creating the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, we are extending our reach beyond our restaurants and will be supporting organizations and people that are working to improve individual family farms, animals and the environment, and youth and education programs.”

We’re huge fans of Chipotle here at EnduranceSportsFlorida. It’s tough to think of a better power-food lunch or dinner for an endurance athlete than a burrito bowl. The best part about it is that you know you’re eating organic food, especially farm-raised meat from animals that have not been shot up with hormones. And, of course, it’s delicious and affordable.

Chipotle has a history of supporting causes related to improving the way people eat. Over the last two years, the company has donated more than $2 million to philanthropic organizations, with much of that benefitting groups that are working to improve some element of the food system, including Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, The Nature Conservancy, FamilyFarmed.org,

Leave a comment

Filed under Nutrition, Training

The Chipotletarian Diet

By Pete Williams

The Chipotle chicken bowl

I love the idea of vegetarianism and veganism. I love the concept of organic foods.

But this all-or-nothing approach seems stifling, impractical and impossible to sustain.

One of the major beefs, pun intended, that vegetarians have with the meat industry is how animals are treated – long before slaughter. There’s no question that it’s downright scary what’s going into our food supply, from all of the corn animals eat to the hormones to the feces and other stuff that inevitably gets into our food because of the way animals are mass produced.

That’s why I decided to undergo an experiment for August. The only meat I would consume would be chicken from Chipotle, which comes from free-range chickens like those raised at Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms in Virginia, which was featured in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the movie Food Inc.

So this month I’ve eaten an average of four meals a week at Chipotle, sometimes lunch, sometimes dinner. Same thing every time: burrito bowl with one scoop of white rice, black beans, chicken, corn and mild salsa, sprinkling of cheese, guacamole, and lettuce. All other meals I go totally vegan, though I have consumed all-natural Mix1 protein shakes, which include whey protein.

I’m not sure how much of this is the diet – probably most of it, though I’ve trained a lot this month, too – but I’m in the best shape of my life. My energy levels are off the charts, my productivity is high, and my athletic performance across strength, speed, and endurance is incredible.

September is almost here, but I’m going to continue The Chipotletarian Diet.

2 Comments

Filed under Nutrition, Training

Chipotle Comes to Citrus Park

By Pete Williams

Open in Citrus Park

Good to see Chipotle Mexican Grill open a new location in the Tampa Bay area today near the Citrus Park Mall by the on-ramp to the Veterans Expressway.

Chipotle does an incredible job scouting locations. They like high-traffic spots in upscale areas. The company has an endurance sports heritage, at least in supporting cycling and the occasional triathlon, and seems to have a knack for placing restaurants in areas frequented by the endurance sports crowd. (Good bike routes and proximity to the Suncoast Parkway in the case of the newest Chipotle.)

We’re big fans of Chipotle  here at Endurance Sports Florida. Steve Ells’ vision of food with integrity served in a fast casual style is especially appealing to endurance athletes.

The concept is brilliant on so many levels. When Mark Verstegen introduced us to Chipotle in October of 2002 in Phoenix, Chipotle was virtually non-existent on the East Coast. Now it continues to grow…and grow…and grow.

Even as Wall Street traders scurried about in the last week in a semi-panic along the lines of 2008, the Chipotle around the corner from trading floor continued to attract a line out the door. Incredible, healthy food at an affordable price.

Simple yet amazing formula.

1 Comment

Filed under Cycling, Nutrition