Chipotle means real good

by Ogi Overman

It has long been observed that trends that start on the West Coast take about two years to wind their way across the country and gain a foothold on the East Coast. That theory seems to be borne out again with the arrival in Greensboro of Chipotle Mexican Grill, not quite an LA burrito bar but a far cry from your basic Taco Bell. Yes, it is fast food but with a significant twist that puts it in a class virtually by itself.

Chipotle (pronounced Chi-POAT-lay) uses all natural ingredients, pesticide-free vegetable and spices, and sauces that come with no preservatives or artificial flavors. Its pork dishes are made from hogs raised naturally on family farms, without antibiotics or hormones. It uses only fresh avacodos, tomatoes and peppers.

The Denver-based chain, now numbering well over 500 units, is growing at a phenomenal pace of one store-opening every four days. It made its North Carolina debut in Raleigh, then opened a restaurant in Winston-Salem and, as of last Friday, now has a presence in Greensboro at the corner of Wendover and Bridford Pkwy. (5402 Sapp Road, in front of The Conference Store). The grill had its official ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m.

“I think Greensboro and the surrounding area is in for a real treat,” said Meryl Arnett, of Melissa Libby & Assoc., the Atlanta-based ad agency that handles all the Chipotle openings. “Based on the success of the other two restaurants in North Carolina, and with this high-traffic location, there’s no reason not think this unit will catch on.”

Arnett, who flies all over the country to make sure each opening goes smoothly, sees Chipotle being on the vanguard of a trend not so much in Mexican-type fare but in healthy, natural fare.

“I think there’s a whole attitudinal shift going on in this country in the way we view the foods we eat,” explained the PR executive. “We’ve seen the dangers in preservatives and processed foods, and people are starting to become more aware of the ingredients in the things they eat. There’s no reason food can’t be fast and good for you and taste good all at the same time.”

The Chipotle menu is essentially five items, but with a wide variety of variations on the theme. It offers burritos, fajita burritos (with sautéed peppers and onions instead of beans), burrito bol (served in a bowl with no tortilla), tacos, and salad. Each may feature either chicken, steak, carnitas (pork), barbacoa (shredded beef) or vegetarian. Going through the buffet line, one picks out the toppings for each dish. They include cilantro-lime rice, pinto or vegetarian black beans, cheese, sourcream, guacamole, romaine lettuce and choice of salsa. Salsas are made of various combinations of roasted chili, corn, tomatillo, green and red chilis, and/or fresh tomatoes and range from mild to medium to hot.

Although none was evident for the grand opening, Chipotle does serve margaritas, specialty beers and domestic beer.

“They do get a little more festive once the sun goes down,” smiled Arnett.

For questions or comments email