Monday, November 12, 2012

Chipotle opens in Munster

Today is the grand opening of the new Chipotle location on Calumet Avenue in Munster, Indiana, but I had the opportunity to attend a soft opening of the store yesterday. I can't say that I attended due to my foodie clout or connections. I totally have Dad to thank for attending this foodie event. Dad and I have lunch together often and we like to try out new places. He lives in Munster and when the big carpet store that stretched about two blocks on the East side of Calumet Avenue, just south of Broadmoor was torn down, Dad was curious about what was going to be built on the site. He'd ask around town and right away he heard rumors about Chipotle. Since then a few strips of stores have opened. A Panera was added. A Dunkin Donuts went in. A Firehouse Subs opened. A Five Guys debuted. Every time a new eatery opened up, Dad would express disappointment that it wasn't a Chipotle.

So, a few weeks ago we went to check out Five Guys Burgers and as we were leaving, we noticed a storefront that was finished on the outside, but being worked on inside. We found out it was a Chipotle and dad was thrilled. He'd check back often to see how the work was progressing. One day as he walked up and put his nose up to the glass, an employee came out and told him about opening day. He was also given a couple invitations to the soft opening where we were treated to a complimentary meal.

We were greeted by some friendly employees at the front door who directed us in. I went up to the counter a little unsure of what to get. It was my first visit ever to a Chipotle Mexican Grill. My sister has raved about the place and others have told me how good it is. I kind of knew what to expect - my sister described it as a build-your-own-burrito kind of place with a buffet of fresh ingredients prepared for you. They aren't made up in back where everything is out of sight. They make it in front of you and let you customize it with your own ingredients - somewhat like the set-up at a Subway sandwich shop.

Although the menu doesn't look that extensive as you look up at your choices, it is hard to make a decision with all the possible combinations. There are 4 meats and a vegetarian option that can be made into a burrito, burrito bowl, tacos or a salad. Four salsas are available, ranging from mild to medium to hot - fresh tomato, roasted chili -corn,  tomatillo green chili and tomatillo red chili. Then there's the cilantro-lime rice of which you can select white or brown. Black beans or pinto beans with bacon are yet additional options. You can also add cheese, grilled fajita vegetables, and sour cream. I grabbed a take-out menu that had compete nutrition information on the back, which was nice. If you pile up a monster burrito, you can end up with a pretty hefty calorie count, but you could easily put together a nice meal for around 500 - 600 calories.

So, I tried out a steak burrito with some brown cilantro-lime rice, pinto beans, fajita vegetables, sour cream and cheese. The steak was a little on the spicy side. I don't usually go for extreme spices. This time, though, my mouth was kind of on fire, but I couldn't stop. The meat was just too good - very tender!.

The meat options included the steak (which was a little spicy for my weak tongue), the barbacoa (a spicy braised and shredded beef), the carnitas (braised and shredded pork - I was told this one isn't spicy, so I'll have to try it out on the next visit) and chicken marinated in chipotle adobo, then grilled.


Speaking of the meat, a couple managers stopped by our table to fill us in on the company philosophy of using naturally-raised, organically-fed meat and cheese made from milk of hormone-free cows. Jesse Gonzalez, who manages another Chicago-area location was there helping with the opening and explained the company's commitment to organic products and local farmers. He said that when possible, they try to travel no more than 250 miles outside of the store in supplying their ingredients. "We want to change the way the public views fast food," he said. "Food with Integrity" is the chain's motto. "And we give great service. We try to develop people. We are looking for a certain kind of employee. They have to be high-energy."

Gonzalez said that the company relies on word-of-mouth as they don't spend money on advertising. "We put that money into our crew," he said. I LOVE that!!! And I have never seen a team at a "fast food" restuarant that appeared to be having so much fun. There was singing and lots of dancing going on. I kinda wanted to bust a move myself. (Let me insert a little story here: back in my early 20's I worked in an office with a lot of women who were old enough to be my mother - or even grandmother. As everyone got sluggish in mid-morning or after lunch, I'd make everyone get up and dance to either Chubby Checker's "The Twist" or something similar or to Mexican polka music. Everyone thought I was insane, but it certainly perked up the whole office and everyone was much more productive afterwards. I guess I was ahead of my time! ;)

So, anyway, the place was pumpin'. I figured it was just the hype of the opening, but Gonzalez tells me that it is simply the culture of the company - good healthy food paired with enthusiastic and engergetic employees. "We let the food advertise itself," he said.

Another employee came by to check on us and he shared his story. About a year ago, he was homeless. He was just 16 and from a broken home and was out on his own with no place to live. He said he went into a Chipotle and applied and was hired immediately. In a few short months he has worked his way up to service manager and has his own apartment now and a promising future with the company and he is just 18-years-old. His story was so compelling that my eyes were tearing up as I listened to him. You know what? The food could have been completely awful and I would go back anyway knowing how they treat their employees and what kind of opportunities they provide for them.

But, the food was far from awful. In fact, it was pretty awesome. Dad got tacos (you get three in an order), so I tried out one of his. The crispy corn tortillas are the best I've had at a Mexican restaurant and their triangled counterparts are equally perfect ~ especially when you dip them in the outstanding guacamole. I could NOT stop eating it.

I can't wait to stop back with my kids because they also have some great kid's menu items, including quesadillas and a taco-kit that comes with ingredients and shells for kids to build their own.

I was told that the new Munster location is store #17 in Indiana and that the chain is now expanding to Europe. Another thing that makes Chipotle unique for a fast-food type establishment is that they serve beer and margaritas. Well, the sign said that the liquor license is "pending," so I guess they will serve alcohol eventually.

I also learned that the company has just jumped into another market, opening a new chain of fresh Asian fast food spots last year. The first location was in Washington D.C. and according to Shophouse's Facebook page, the next location will be opening in Los Angeles next year. I'm hoping Chicago will soon be on the list of future locations.













So, if you're a fan of Chipotle and living in the south suburbs or northwest Indiana, you now have a location in your own back yard. And if you've never tried it, stop by and give it a whirl ~ and tell them the Chicago Foodie Sisters sent you!


1 comment:

  1. We definitely love Chipotle in this house! Everything tastes fresh. We usually go with a burrito bowl so we save on calories w/o the tortilla. You are right--you can make a ton of different meals with few ingredients and Chipotle definitely shows this!

    Mel S
    http://twomomsalittletimeandakeyboard.blogspot.com

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