Chipotle Vancouver-7

It’s a testament to Chipotle’s success when in San Francisco, one of the most beloved taqueria cities, a line forms to the door. I discovered Chipotle about two and a half years ago, on a visit to SF, one of my former homes. Heading down Market Street towards the Ferry Building, l discovered a very busy Chipotle with a steady stream of customers. Many had already placed their orders via the restaurant’s iPhone app.

After my burrito lunch there, I was hooked. I’d previously lived in San Francisco for seven years, which allowed plenty of time to find a few favourite burrito spots.

For every burrito-loving San Franciscan, there’s at least one burrito place laid claim to as their home joint (mine happens to be El Toro at Valencia and 17th).

Chipotle Vancouver-2

Now back to the Chipotle story. This is their first Western Canada location, with five in Toronto. The chain started with a Denver restaurant 19 years ago and has grown to over 1,400 stores around the globe.

The Vancouver store is located at 818 Howe near Robson, in the former Urban Barn space. The interior design is modern, well-lit with clean lines, and has an organized seating plan. There are tables as well as stools with long high-top tables, inviting conversation.

Chipotle Vancouver-3

A variety of music on the speaker system keeps everyone happy. I sat down with Gustavo, Chipotle Vancouver’s manager, to chat about the restaurant while nibbling on a chicken burrito bowl.

Chipotle takes pride in using the highest quality, organic ingredients from cheese to hormone-free beef and poultry. Founder/CEO Steve Ells adheres to high standards and keeps the chain restaurant in check with a team that visits vendors on a regular basis to make sure everything is on the up and up. Chipotle is known in the US for buying the most hormone-free meat in the industry.

Chipotle's chicken burrito bowl
[Chicken burrito bowl]

The test kitchen in New York City works on new dishes and ingredients. Former Food Network Iron Chef competitor Nate Appleman has joined the Chipotle team in the role of culinary manager; his latest creation uses tofu. Chorizo is also being tested in other markets around the country. When something is deemed a success, it will appear on Chipotle menus across the board.

Chipotle Vancouver-1

I wondered what Chipotle’s biggest challenge has been in bringing it to Vancouver. Gustavo’s answer: getting the amount of ingredients that they need on a daily basis. Their current steak vendor has also warned of a potential shortage. The Vancouver restaurant is currently working to get local suppliers for more product into the new year.

Although commodity chicken is produced without growth hormones or antibiotics, the suppliers can’t prove that the chicken is 100% pasture-raised and cruelty-free. This raises a red flag with Steve. If the animals aren’t raised on a pasture, he avoids purchasing them. It’s apparently easier to find pasture-raised animal suppliers in the US. If that’s true, I hope that Canada will follow suit. Too many fast food restaurants settle for cheaper, subpar ingredients.

Chipotle Vancouver-4

Chipotle has a simple menu that’s completely customizable to all tastes, from the fillings to the salsas. This was the first time trying a burrito bowl and I must say, though the ingredients were hearty and the taste delicious, I miss the burrito grip-it-in-your hands experience. Luckily for myself and other burrito fans, even the tortillas that Chipotle sources are made with organic flour.

Chipotle Vancouver-5

Chipotle’s mantra is Food With Integrity. The very successful chain is trying to rethink the way that people see fast food. This ethic also fits in with Gustavo’s own point of view. He’s originally from Oregon, where his family had access to neighbourhood farms, allowing him to grow up enjoying hormone-free meats.

I finally asked Gustavo what he enjoys most about being in Vancouver with his wife and young children. His answer: the huge diversity in his crew. It’s a small United Nations at Chipotle Vancouver, this being the most diverse Chipotle he’s managed so far.

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