Chipotle Turns 21 Years Old: Here's What the Giant Burritos Were Like at the Beginning
On July 13, 1993, an 850-square-foot burrito joint opened in Denver and a legend was born. Chipotle turned 21 years old on Sunday, meaning that if it were a person, the company would finally be allowed to drink the margaritas served at some locations. But what were the burrito giant and its giant burritos like back in the '90s? Sit down with your favorite foil-wrapped feast for the most delicious history lesson of the week!
Then: 850 Square Feet of Restaurant
Chipotle's founder, Steve Ells, bought his first restaurant space, near the University of Denver, with $85,000 borrowed from his dad. He figured the place would be profitable if it could sell 107 burritos a day, allowing him to save money to open up a much higher-end establishment. But by the end of month one, the humble store was selling 1,000 burritos daily. Yeah, that gourmet restaurant never happened.
Now: Up to 7,000 Square Feet of Awesomeness
But even though Ells never moved into fancy food, he could bring his burritos-for-the-average-Joe style to the land of gourmet. The company opened its largest restaurant ever this past March in a 7,000-square-foot space in Paris. That's enough room to seat 150 people! Even taking that into account, Chipotle's more reasonably sized locations are still nothing to sniff at: The average space of its over 1,600 locations is 2,535 square feet with enough seating for 56 people.
Then: College Munchies
The location just off a college campus and the simple menu made Chipotle a perfect place for students to grab a quick bite. In fact, the setup was so simple, Ells initially thought it would run itself, giving him time to work on fancier fare. "Never in our 20-year history have I set a goal of becoming a national chain or a global brand or [having] a certain number of restaurants or a certain number of markets or a certain run-rate or anything like that," he told the Huffington Post last year.
Now: Burrito Behemoth
The simplicity was so appealing that instead of becoming totally self-sustaining, the restaurant just multiplied itself, expanding to 44 states plus the U.K., Canada, France, and Germany. After a brief courtship with McDonald's, Chipotle is currently single and looking to stay that way. But even with all this business, the tiny original location is still open and still bears the chain's original retro-style sign.
Then: Simple, Simple, Simple
Chipotle's first location was decorated with industrial fixings and plywood, and its menu consisted simply of tacos, fajitas, and the famous burritos the size of a small child. The available fillings included beans, the company's signature lime-cilantro rice, salsa, seriously delicious guacamole, peppers with onions, chicken, pork, and beef. The restaurant prepared what it could in-house, and everything was made to order right in front of the customer. Meals there initially cost about five dollars.
Now: Not Much Has Changed
Okay, so prices are a little higher. And they've added some menu items – like salads, burrito bowls, quesadillas, barbacoa, and the new vegan sofritas – since 1993. But everything else, from the effort to stay as fresh and local as possible to the fun of watching your food made right as you order it, has stayed pretty much the same. And that's the way we like it.
Happy 21st, Chipotle. Don't ever change. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to eat a humongous burrito, extra guac on the side.