The opening Monday of Chipotle Mexican Grill in Santa Fe has reignited the habañero-hot debate about local versus chain restaurants in a city where peppery cuisine is king.
“Nope! So many authentic Mexican food choices,” Donna M. Simonetti opined on The New Mexican Facebook page.
“I’ll be eating at El Chile Toreado on Early Street,” Elaine Fattah wrote on the same page, garnering 15 likes.
From Drea Read on the Santa Fe Bulletin Board Facebook page: “If we want this to remain the City Different ... we should support local business ... otherwise Santa Fe will turn into everywhere USA.”
“I think it’ll be a refreshing change in Santa Fe to have some consistency in food and service and ingredients that are held to a standard,” Johnny James Gabaldon countered on The New Mexican page. “Seems like most of the local New Mexican places get greasier and greasier every year.”
And so it goes, with debate showing little signs of being doused anytime soon. But no matter how you slice it, Chipotle’s appearance will add to the competition for hungry mouths when it opens at at 10:45 a.m. Monday in the Crossroads Center at St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road.
The restaurant’s burritos are big and they come in chicken, steak, carne asada, barbacoa, carnitas, sofritas and veggie. The same choices apply to burrito bowls. There’s also no shortage of tacos and options that revolve around beans, veggies, rice and toppings. There’s also Mexican Coca-Cola.
“We serve responsibly sourced, classically-cooked, real food with real ingredients without added colors, flavors or other additives,” a Chipotle spokesman wrote in an email. “Chipotle has been committed to sourcing real ingredients from farmers who are aligned with our food with integrity principles. This includes working with local suppliers and farmers.”
Chipotle did not respond to a question about whether any New Mexico farmers supply the eight Chipotle restaurants in Albuquerque, Clovis, Farmington and Las Cruces, and now the first one in Santa Fe.
Chipotle did announce last week it would start offering three-year contracts to farmers under age 40 to supply beef, pork and dairy, to help build the next generation of farmers.
Chipotle also did not have a direct response as to why it took until 2019 for Santa Fe to get a Chipotle or 2011 for the first outlet to open in New Mexico, even though the restaurant was founded in Denver in 1993 and remained headquartered there until moving to Newport Beach, Calif., in 2018.
“There are a number of factors that go into these types of decisions including proximity to suppliers who have the same priorities that we do, staffing and others,” the spokesman wrote. “As Chipotle has grown over the last few years, we are able to expand our networks and come to exciting new places like New Mexico.”
Chipotle had only 14 stores in 1998 when McDonald’s Corp. bought a minority stake. The fast-food giant gained majority control of the company the next year. McDonald’s divested from Chipotle in 2006, by which time the chain had grown to 500 stores. The count now is more than 2,500, including expansions to Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Germany.
Some Santa Fe Facebook commenters mentioned Chipotle’s food poisoning episodes; the chain experienced an especially troublesome year in 2015. Four episodes of E. coli, norovirus and salmonella sickened some 250 diners in Oregon, Washington, Minnesota and California. Another round of norovirus in 2017 in Virginia affected more than 135 people, and a July 2018 Clostridium perfringens outbreak in Ohio sickened 647 people, according to the outbreakdatabase.com website.
Chipotle’s pride in using fresh ingredients was also a liability that set off the 2015 food safety crises.
The company improved cooking and safety procedures and closely monitored new restaurant openings. Chipotle also clamped down on making sure sick employees don’t come to work — which triggered some of the food poisoning episodes, Bloomberg reported.
As for what will happen when the chain’s first burritos are sold in Santa Fe, no one knows. But rest assured, people will talk.
“Let’s just be clear, Chipotle is not New Mexican food; it’s different in style and flavor,” Julian Kilkenny wrote on The New Mexican page. “With that said, comparing it to New Mexican food is apples to crabapples. I’m just happy to have another option that happens not to be the same as everything else we already have here.”