BY KAYLA VALERA | STAFF WRITER
Over the past year, many mainland-based chain restaurants have laid claim over Hawaiʻi with their sprinkling of stores opening up across the island, including Johnny Rockets, Applebee’s, and Five Guys. Some companies like Dunkin’ Donuts are even setting up shop as we speak. However, it is the food franchise, Chipotle Mexican Grill that the Pacific Business News states as a potential incomer to the islands’ food market.
“We do not talk about plans for specific locations or markets beyond what we have under lease and where construction is scheduled,” Chris Arnold, communications director for Chipotle, told Pacific Business News in an email. “We do not have anything in Hawai‘i that meets those criteria at this time.”
Forbes 2016 list of innovative companies ranks Chipotle Mexican Grill as #39 and states that the fast-food restaurant rakes in at least $4.5 billion a year in sales. Since its establishment in 1993, the franchise has also expanded its restaurants to international locations and overall has at least over 2,000 stores worldwide.
As a local who usually doesn’t agree with the invasion of foreign food companies infiltrating the islands, I actually would be excited at the prospect of Chipotle coming to the Aloha State. Given my experience with the restaurant throughout my few encounters with it on the mainland (including one recently just before finals week), I truly believe that Chipotle would be an exciting addition to the string of restaurants that are offered on the islands.
In terms of the distinctive “Chipotle-taste,” I would say that Chipotle isn’t anything too revolutionary. Sure it’s tasty, but it isn’t reinventing the way we eat authentic Mexican cuisine. Though this isn’t to say that it’s anywhere as slight as Taco Bell. Chipotle’s greatest appeal to its consumers is its sneakily healthy food and simple menu. The company doesn’t have to make up any new gimmicky foods to catch people’s attention and instead concentrates its efforts in serving the best quality foods of what they offer. The food options to choose from range from a burrito, bowl, crispy corn taco, soft corn taco, soft flour taco, salad, and a kid’s menu (which you can get either a quesadilla or taco, a drink, and chips).
After choosing your base, you get to pick a responsibly raised meat (steak, carnitas, chicken, or barbacoa) or tofu (also known as sofritas) as the next layer. The next level includes an array of cilantro-lime brown rice, cilantro-lime white rice, black beans, pinto beans, and fajita veggies. To top if all off, there is a variety of sauces and flavors to infuse with your meal such as fresh tomato salsa, tomato red-chili salsa, sour cream, tomato green-chili salsa, roasted chili corn salsa, romaine lettuce, guacamole, and cheese.
The price range for foods are as follows: burritos ($6.50-$7.50), bowls ($6.50- $7.50), salads ($6.50-$7.50), tacos ($2.40-$2.75 for one piece, $6.50- $7.50 for three pieces), and kid’s menu items ($3.75-$4.75). The cost varies according to the type of meat/tofu base. Extras, such as chips & guacamole ($3.25), guacamole ($1.95), chips & salsa ($1.95), and chips ($1.30), are also add-on costs
Having been to locations in Seattle and San Diego, I would say that the overall consensus is that the restaurant is clean, inviting, and smartly sustainable. Besides the overall friendly staff who I’ve been served by, the interior is bright and open, with interesting modern Aztec art. The theme of steel, wood and red hues feels industrial yet warm and makes you feel as if you’re eating at a trendy (though quite affordable) restaurant.
Whether or not Chipotle Mexican Grill plans to meander its way to the islands, everyone should at least go through the experience of eating at Chipotle during a trip to the mainland to see what all the well-deserved hype is about.