Back in 2006, I began my graduate degree in uptown Manhattan. The program I was in was designed for teachers, so it was intensive - we gave up three Julys of our lives to dedicate to school, classes ran from 8 to 5 on most days and one day of the week was 8 to 8 - we needed a place to eat, other than the cafeteria. Almost directly outside the doors of our school was a place called Chipotle that was, according to my classmates (who were from all over the US), the place to go for burritos and Mexican food. I had never seen one before, or even heard of one before, but after one quick dinner pick-up, I was hooked! Throughout the three years in the program our evening professors became very accustomed to the smell and sharing of Mexican foods in the classroom and, on occassion, joined in the ordering fun!
My obsession with Chipotle did not end with my time in grad school, it continued, and I then introduced it to my husband, so it became a family obsession. As I became more concerned with my food choices as a whole, I wondered if Chipotle was a typical fast food place and, therefore, have to be reconsidered as a suitable form of sustenance. So I decided to look into it and kept running into this one intriguing point: Chipotle kept referring to their food as "food with integrity." I felt this point might actually hold some potential, so I dug a little deeper.
Although Chipotle has been in business since the early 1990s, it wasn't until the close of that decade that the founder and owner of the franchise, Steve Ellis, learned the extent of the horrors in the factory farming industry AND decided to do something about it. This "food with integrity" tagline that each and every Chipotle carries with it is not just a good PR slogan - this company is FOR REAL. In this NIGHTLINE interview from 2009, you can hear Ellis describing his passion and work to earn this badge of "integrity":
Chipotle's website also gives a great taste of the company - from their menu, to their food philosophy, their interesting time-line and a bit more from Steve Ellis. There is also a store finder where you can locate the closest Chipotle to you and then, maybe, you can even order online (I haven't tried that feature yet, since it is a bit of a trip for me to get to any Chipotle!). I highly recommend checking out their "Food With Integrity" tab to find out not only what this company is doing for animal welfare and the environment, but how it also extends itself to its people - those who work for and with the company, I thought that was some really good stuff!!
Steve Ellis, the founder and owner of Chipotle, has definitely become another foodie-hero of mine. He has balanced ethics with economics in a country where too many have argued that one must always be compromised. While this is a pivotal part of Mr. Ellis' business, customers are not beat over the head with it - you can find the tag-line "food with integrity" on the menu, but, to be honest, it is easily ignorable - Chipotle is about good food, beginning to end, plain and simple. In fact, while getting together with a group of friends to take a Chipotle Trip to The City (this is what we call Manhattan, even though there are 5 boroughs in New York City, our home being in one of them), I started discussing the reasons why this was such a great place to support - most of my friends had no idea, they just thought it was a great place to go because it had tasty food (which is also a very compelling reason). The establishments themselves also feel like they are somewhat "responsible" as you can see the food being cooked, you select from fresh ingredients, all the packaging does seem minimal, and there is a disposal system in place for recycling beverage containers.
This September, while visiting my grandmother in the nursing home in New Jersey, my husband and I needed to run out quick to get something eat. We found a Chipotle. I was elated and then suddenly saddened - my diet had changed to gluten-free and dairy-free since the last time I had been to a Chipotle. I wondered, "What are the chances of this place, with flour tortillas and cheese and sour cream all over the place, being a safe place for me to eat?" I decided to check it out. I found, upon entering, right next to the menu, I smaller menu-looking pamphlet, with Allergen Information on it! When I looked up, smiling, from it I saw my husband asking for a manager to ask about gluten so I stopped him, "Don't worry about it. It's already covered." Such a simple thing to do, but I was grateful for it. And über-grateful that I could still have CHIPOTLE!! WOO-HOO!
So you might be asking yourselves right now, "What brought this up today?" Very simple. Last night I had the most delicious chicken burrito bowl in a Chipotle in Brooklyn. That was my dinner. It was yummy, it was satisfying and I was just thinking... everyone needs a little burrito, or taco, now and then, why not share the good news about a good company doing right by its employees, the animals, the produce and the farmers that all come together to make the meal?
I am now left wondering, who else in the food industry is moving in the right direction? If you know of any other dining franchises that you think deserve a shout-out or some recognition for their good deeds, please let us know who they are. I think it is extremely important to support those who are fighting for what we believe in - it builds on the competitive spirit in others, forcing them to ask, what are those companies doing to get all of that attention? Maybe we should do it too...