On the Verge of Divorce

I confess. I have had quite the love affair with you Chipotle, and not from afar either. It’s been a passionate cornucopia of taste bud delightfulness from the first day I met you. But now, my heart is speaking here not my taste buds, we are on the verge of a divorce.

Even though you did come riding out on your burro burritos-ablazin’ in 1993 in Denver, it wasn’t until a fall day in Chicago in the year 2000 (or so, details are fuzzy when it comes to love) when I first encountered you. I was in awe of your selection, your speed and the quality of your fare. Frankly, without apologies, it was love at first bite.

You, however, were not my first love. Way back in the days when phones still had cords that were (unless your parents were rich) only 3 feet long so everyone within the confines of the kitchen knew who and what you were talking about I fell for the new fast-food kid on the block. I was a niño of seven, and these Americans pretending to be Mexicans were fresh, lovely and enticing.

Well maybe not so fresh but again, I was seven. Everything was fresh back then at Taco Bell. Yes, they were the first to hold me to their faux-Mexican bosom and feed me Mexican-Americanized delights. The first offering I tasted I loved – the Chili Burger which was soon changed to the Bellburger then soon after changed to the Bell Beefer. Yep. Taco Bell had a burger which was effectively a Mexicanish sloppy joe. Imagine if you will, Taco Bell’s basic ground beef liberally splashed with mild sauce, topped with cheese and squished between soft luscious buns. Loved it, but it went away. Was I crushed? A bit sad for certain but there were so many other delights on the Taco Bell menu board to try. Plus, at the time ALL of them (except for the Bellburger) had pronunciations next to them. I could get a “buh-ree-toh” or a “toh-stah-dah” or just a plain old “tah-coh.”

Look at that menu! No, ‘free-ho-lays’ were not free.

It was an affair that would last the better part of 45 years.

Through thick and thin and two marriages Taco Bell and I frolicked through the wonderment of Mexican-Americanized fast food, laughing at the folly of those who dared to try to entice me. Begone with ye, Taco John! Say you tempt to fete me with your “taco” Jack-in-the-Box? Nay I say! Del Taco? Pfft. Hell Taco. No, Taco Bell and I were tight…

… until Chipotle. It took a few years for me to curtail my relationship with Taco Bell and to this day I still hop into the Chalupa sack with my former love. But that love, while a love of remembrances past, also takes demonic possession of my gastrointestinal system. I simply cannot hold you like I could when I was younger, Taco Bell.

Chipotle, you took me by the tongue and made mad passionate Mexi-Cali love to my taste buds. You shook my feelings of Mexican fast food to the core. Sizzling meat, steamy rice, displays of salsa laid bare in front of my eyes for me to select. There was no wondering what exactly was inside my burrito, no. I could see it come to fruition, the tortilla stretched beyond my wildest expectations. I was bearing witness to my food’s creation, and it was glorious!

You had to go, TB. I had to cut you back to 3 quickies or so a year. I just didn’t have it in me to deprive myself of the amazement of the newbie Chipotle.

Were they in fact too fresh? Maybe? According to the FDA? Definitely. Chipotle has dipped its toes into the murky fetid waters of food poisoning. How can that be? It’s mostly a supply chain issue boiling down to carelessness. I know, sounds complicated this “supply chain” stuff but it’s not. It’s simply getting food safely, in this case failing said safely by transmitting Norovirus by not following food safety protocols, from point A to point B. This made me question my loyalty. Were you in fact, Chipotle, cutting corners on me thereby depriving me of a mucho gracias gastronomical fiesta? You were in such a hurry (to the tune of a 25 mildo fine) to get the fresh to me you simply got negligent.

But you bounced back. You went through your food safety protocol rehab and came out on the other side as gleaming as one of your wrapped burritos. I was so proud! Look everyone, she’s back! She’s here to caress my tongue once again with her delectable blend of Mexi-Cali spices! And she expanded – bringing forth many other flavors including the vegan sofritas fake meat. Bless you in your generosity for thinking of others, Chipotle!

So why am I contemplating a divorce from one I love so much? It’s painful, it really is but the disappointments keep adding up under the looming umbrella known as… Supply Chain Management. It’s really three words that seem so complicated yet again, are not that difficult. However, when a company fails in this endeavor it’s heartbreaking and puts a sour taste in one’s mouth.

But what of other chain restaurants? Has Taco Bell ever run out of anything? Yes. They brought back Mexican Pizza. If you are not familiar, the Mexican Pizza is essentially a double-stacked tostada sealed with a refried bean ‘caulk’ then topped like a pizza only the toppings are all Mexican-Americanized Taco Bell goodness. I went to get one for a delightful trip into nostalgia. They were out. I knew if I sped down the 3 miles to the next Taco Bell they’d be out too. Why? Supply Chain Management. When you actually MANAGE your supply chain you will be very consistent in what is being offered and what product you will run short of at every location. It’s not an exact science, but it’s damn close.

Why bring up ‘every location?” Chipotle can run out of different items at different stores. It’s maddening and this is why I am considering filing my fast casual divorce papers. To whit, my Chipotle experience on a single day recently which shook my trust in them to the core. I wanted you, my BFF Chipotle, for lunch. I was out away from home for business and thought why not? I love you so and seeing you in a strange area was refreshing and damn grub erotic if I may say so. I walk up and am greeted with a note on the door which read “we are not taking customers in store. You must order from the app and pick up inside… and we are out of veggies.” OK. Fine. But guess what else was down? Yep, the app. No Chipotle for lunch for this amigo.

Five hours later I had returned home. Guess who’s hungry for you since they did not get you at lunch, Chipotle? Yep, this guy. So, I go on to their website, sign on (which FYI – having to sign on at home is okay, but on the app? That’s a huge no, Chipotle – no one remembers their password unless they are using the word ‘password’ which is stupid – yes, I got tossed out of the app like a use avocado). I order online. I have rewards points, so I tack on some guacamole and chips gratis. I can’t check out – it reads “missing item” – what is missing? Doesn’t tell me. So, I assume there may be an issue at my local Chipotle. Because, why not, right?

I drive over. Not many people in the place. Huh. I go up to place my order. “Just to let you know,” my burrito barista exclaims, “we are out of meat.” Which meat? All meat. All of it. It’s 7pm. They have 3 more hours to be open and can only sell sofritas (of course they had the fake meat available).

Well dang it all, Chipotle. Thankfully there’s another one of your fabulous locales a few miles down the road. I will travel there. Now I REALLY want you Chipotle and my free guac and chips. I arrive. I walk in. Place smells of sizzling meat. Pretty sure I wolf-whistled and probably drooled. I walk up, show them my free guac and chips reward and exclaim “you know your fellow Chipotle down the street is out of meat. Thank God you’re not.” This taco technician smiles and says, “we’re out of guacamole.”

Well, as I know Abe Lincoln would have certainly exclaimed if he had to endure this kind of Mexi-Cali fast casual food torture, “fuck me.”

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?! WHY AM I BEING JILTED?! I exclaimed once I got in the car and steer to toward a nearby local Mexican restaurant where I dined on fajitas with guac. Simple. SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT. It’s one thing to run out of a menu item straight across the board. It’s something completely different to have that bizarre of a set of circumstances at three different spots in the same area in one day.

For the record, and slightly off-topic but I hate gambling. I don’t like the antsy feeling. I want the comfort in knowing things will be consistent. This encompasses relationships of the human kind as well as the foodie kind. I am not a fan of thinking “hey let’s go to Wendy’s and see IF THEY HAVE ANY HAMBURGERS TODAY.”

You see where I am now, Chipotle? Can you feel the pangs of my stomach and heart? Can you read through my hair-pulling frustration how upsetting this is and how I feel I may have to scrawl “I divorce thee” on a forgotten misplaced tortilla and send it in to your corporate headquarters? The place where it most likely will be re-routed incorrectly due to supply chain mismanagement?

It hurts, this feeling. I hope you get your act together. I hope whatever organizational rehab you need to do, whatever 12-Mexican hat dance steps you need to take, you take them and get your corporate self to a better place soon.

PS Chipotle – I did get my free guacamole and chips. I went into my local Chipotle a few days later (yes, the one that had no meat that night), showed them the freebie on the app and asked, “what am I doing wrong?” The quesadilla queen across the counter said, “No one knows, dude. Seriously, we have no idea. No one tells us anything. I’ll just give it you.”

She, in her own lackadaisical, nonchalantly uncaring way, may have saved this fast-casual Mexi-Cali food marriage. However, my heart is fragile. Don’t toy with me.  

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