Chipotle's Roots in the Mission

Everyone in San Francisco knows Chipotle is the worst.  They took the Mission Burrito, dumbed it down to a Mission-inspired burrito, and then made it acceptable to the flavor palette of New Englanders.  Now Chipotle's founder is richer than God, and credits his success to Colorado and his generous father.

This doesn't sit well with San Francisco's burrito lineage, who played an untold role in building the 11 billion dollar company.  Casey Deeha of the Bay Area Review of Burritos (a must read for anyone remotely interested in foil-wrapped tube food, by the way) caught up with El Faro's Hugo Ontiveros, the son of Mission-style burrito forefather Febronio Ontiveros, for some background on the matter:

If you navigate your way to the 'Chipotle Story' tab on their website, you'll find three sections: 'The Chipotle Story', 'Where Did We Come From', and 'Steve's Story'. Clicking on any one of them will reveal anything from neat little animations showing the beginnings of the chain to a piece of lined school paper on which Steve Ells writes a first hand account of his humble story - in courier type font no less. In all instances, Steve Ells and Chipotlesauraus begins in Colorado when Steve used an $85,000 investment from his father to convert a Madison ice cream parlour into a taqueria. And this is true - he did begin in Colorado. However, “beginnings” are never as straight forward as one thinks and Ells' pre-beginnings place him in San Francisco, where according to Hugo, he frequented the taquerias of the Mission while working as a line chef at Stars in the Civic Center shortly after attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Hugo went on to explain that there is no doubt that Ells often visited the taquerias of the Mission, including  El Faro, to not only enjoy the burritos, but also to “study” the methods says Ontiveros.  Hugo, of course, is not alone in making this suggestion. David A. Kaplan from CNN writes, “Ells loved the little taquerías in the Mission District and decided to open one back in Colorado, where he'd grown up.” Ells himself, in an interview with Jessica Shambora with CNN Money, stated:

“One day, while sitting in a taqueria called Zona Rosa close to my house, I watched how the line crew took care of people in very short order. I took out a napkin and jotted down what I thought the average check was and how many people were going through the line, and I timed it. I thought, Wow, this thing makes a lot of money — it could be a little cash cow that could fund my real restaurant. My dad gave me $85,000 — part loan, part equity. I packed up within a couple of weeks and drove back to Colorado. It was the summer of 1992. The first Chipotle opened in Denver on July 13, 1993.”

While Zona Rosa, as we all know, is on Haight St. and not the Mission, Ontiveros goes on to say that Ells frequented many taquerias in the Mission with the same purpose in mind. Ontiveros goes on to point out that, 'there was no competition in Colorado' as far as quality taquerias were concerned, which propelled Chipotle to quickly gain the revenue to attract investors such as McDonalds and then rule the mexican fast food chain world.

The resentment doesn't stem from Ells' lifting of El Faro's “classic” burrito-building methodology, according to Deeha.  Instead, the absence of any mention of the Mission in 'Chipotle's Story' is what really bothers Ontiveros.

Meanwhile, on Cinco de Mayo, Chipotle was found on Market Street in the Castro, “bribing” passersby with brownbags of chips and guacamole in exchange for signing a petition in support of bringing the restaurant even closer to its ancestral home.

[BARB, and also check out their review of the Chipotle on Lakeshore Ave. in Oakland]

Comments (28)

I can’t wait for the Chipotle “Cultivate” Festival, coming to SF next month. It’s going to be so awesome!

If they were trying to create good-will in SF, don’t you think at least one of the performing musicians should be local?

I think their massive advertising push in the 16th Mission BART station tells you what their motivations are (pump up support for the new Castro Chipotle).

Something great about a blog that know the importance of the burrito.

agreed. you actually know what you’re getting when you eat a burrito from chipotle. they’re so big that they can’t afford to lie or fuck up too bad with their promises, or else they’d get bad press.

how many calories are in a burrito from farolito? where did the chicken come from? what’s in the rice? if you find some bugs or metal or something in your food, what are you going to do? leave 1 bad yelp review to get lost in their 2591 others? with chipotle you could call a major news outlet and have a national story in a day. they can’t afford to let shit like that happen.

yeah, i love small businesses / independent restaurants and whatever just as much as the next person living in sf. more variety and people get to try new concepts. but the huge companies have a lot of good things going for them too – namely quality control

While I agree with you that you’re going to get reasonable calorie counts and increased media scrutiny from Chipotle (although, newsflash, you’re eating a goddamn burrito, Team Weight Watchers), I don’t buy the whole sanitation, quality control, and lack of bug-in-burrito recourse thing.

The health department rates every restaurant in the city–not just chains–and routinely shuts violators down. Moreover, their health scores and violations are published both online and in the stores themselves, so you absolutely know what you’re getting into. If you find a bug in your food, your only recourse isn’t alerting the media; you can also report it to the health department.

As far as quality controls, fast food companies have routinely failed on this front (most recently, horse meat) and maintain horrible track records with respect to their promises (1, 2). Why should anyone expect Chipotle to be any different?

The health department rates every restaurant in the city–not just chains–and routinely shuts violators down.” - Kevin, who are you bullshitting? Remember that inspector who was fired a few years ago because she was tagging the filthy Chinatown restaurants? That story vanished into the ether.

No, I forgot about that, but thanks for reminding me.

I guess the moral of the story: don’t trust anyone in power. (That said, I don’t think the health department is any more corruptible than Chipotle Corporate.)

Yup. I trust the government a hell of a lot more than I trust some random giant corporation, and that’s for damn sure.


Quality is better than Papalote’s burritos, or whatever abomination they call that

Incorrect. Papalote’s isn’t great, but saying that they’re worse than Chipotle is just crazytalk.

On the one hand, it’s kind of pointless to protest chain stores in that spot since the Safeway across the street has not one but TWO Starbucks locations, not to mention a Jamba Juice.

On the other hand, there’s three local burrito joints within a 1-block radius of the proposed location that might suffer because of this. And let’s face it, Chipotle is fucking vile.

“On the other hand, there’s three local burrito joints within a 1-block radius of the proposed location that might suffer because of this. And let’s face it, Chipotle is fucking vile.”

Regardless of the vileness, if the three local burrito joints suffer it is because their former customers chose to abandon them to go to Chipotle.

It’s the same old story: People need to decide who they are going to support and follow through.

Unless someone in the Mission had patented the “Mission Burrito”, its open for anyone’s interpretation and implementation. Care to also chide other taquerias in SF for not being located in the Mission or referencing El Faro on THEIR website? El Faro is greasy and made with lower quality produce. No wonder Chipotle is successful; they kept the style but made it healthier, more sustainable, and actually clean their restaurants/ kitchens. I’ve never been to a super-clean taqueria in SF, nor have I met an environmexalist.

Gee, it’s almost like people have different expectations for mega-businesses vs. mom & pop shops.

And Chipotle makes burritos with white rice. Point, el Faro.


No, YOU rule.

Damn, I suck at insults.

I just really, really hope this doesn’t effect El Castillito.

What’s that el salavadorian place on folsem near the homestead. They have to put horsemeat or at least dog food in their burts!

I know it’s cool to hate on chipotle, but I will say this, they got me through some hard times. Well, more to the point, I moved from SF to manhattan in 2002, and chipotle was the only edible burrito on the island at that point. Thank god I was able to move back to the bean and rice’y embrace of SF.

Back in the day, Chipotle on NewMo had $3 margaritas with cuervo gold. Best to-go drink, ever.

Do they sell anything with smoked jalepeño in it?

In any case, I find Chipotle a useful litmus test for determining if I should trust someone’s taste in food.

Thanks for the BARB tip; it will complement my Burrito Eater reading nicely.