WSJ looks at Chipotle in feature on "seismic shift" in fast food

The Wall Street Journal shined a light on Chipotle Mexican Grill in a feature story on the ongoing "seismic shift" in fast food.


Chipotle's founder and co-CEO, Steve Ells, didn't set out to start a fast-food revolution. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America and cooking under Jeremiah Tower at the landmark San Francisco restaurant Stars, Ells moved home to Denver, where he opened the original Chipotle in 1993. Ells planned to finance a fine-dining restaurant by selling fast food, but when burrito sales took off, he created a modern paradigm where fine-dining chefs make the leap to fast food. José Andrés -- the celebrity chef who launched 3 locations of his own fast-casual concept, Beefsteak, in the past year -- compares Ells to Henry Ford. "Anything we say now, so early, about what Steve Ells has done won't be enough," Andrés says. "The production line he's created has changed the American food business."

Andrés is referring to a kind of transparency that the biggest chains -- once seen as innovators for their assembly-line approach to cooking -- now completely lack. There are more than 60 ingredients in a McDonald's Big Mac, including chemical compounds that, according to the company's ingredient statement, “protect flavor” in the sauce and facilitate “slice separation” in the cheese. Chipotle's entire menu has roughly 60 ingredients, including juniper berries, Hass avocado and organic herbs. "We use things like cutting boards, knives, sauté pans and saucepans," says Ells. "If you went to a typical fast-food restaurant with a bag of groceries you wanted to turn into a meal, it would be very difficult. They're very specific in how they rethermalize their highly processed product."

Read the rest here.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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