You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. Aaron Eckhart said that, which means it’s true.
Chipotle will not die quickly. After catastrophic profit drops—down 82 percent from summer 2015 to summer 2016—the brand continues to thrash against the current, slowly turning itself into the villain it promised the world it would never become. Pre-cooked steak. Labor law violations. Extravagant executive wages. Poor quality control and health standards. Tweeting about dicks a bunch.
But, as it says in Samuel 2:6, “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.” Chipotle’s impending death should not be mourned. Going out in a blaze of E. coli and trash social media decisions will only breathe new life into the fast-casual restaurant market, bringeth-ing fresh and modern concepts up from the grave and into our mouths. I always thought that new life—that sweet, innocent, seven-pound, eight-ounce, newborn messiah restaurant—was going to be ShopHouse, Chipotle’s burgeoningly delicious pan-Asian rice bowl chain. I was wrong.
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Chipotle CEO Steve Ells recently announced to shareholders that he would cut all of ShopHouse’s funding in an effort to save the core brand. The company was vague about the specific fate of ShopHouse, only saying that they’re seeking “strategic alternatives.” All 15 locations could be sold off to another entity, or they could be shuttered entirely, in which case I would chain myself to the soda fountain at the Westwood location, and I call on all of you to join me. But if you need a silver lining to grasp onto, don’t worry: Part of the money Chipotle is saving will go towards the advertising budget for its new chorizo. Yayyyy, chorizo commercials!
It’s the ultimate villain move: Chipotle had every opportunity to sacrifice itself for another more pure restaurant to live on, and instead it stabbed that restaurant in the back and watched it bleed out like one of its “responsibly raised” carnitas pigs. Chipotle is Voldemort, and ShopHouse is Harry Potter, except this retelling of the story ends in Voldemort murdering Harry and then turning his life force into new Voldemort-branded sausage burrito bowls.
“The exotic ShopHouse cuisine was not able to attract sufficient customer loyalty and visit frequency to make it a viable growth strategy,” Ells said. “As a result, we have decided not to invest further in developing or growing the ShopHouse brand and will pursue strategic alternatives.”
If the sales weren’t there, then the sales weren’t there, and we only have ourselves to blame for ShopHouse’s death. But it’s still a shame. ShopHouse wasn’t just good, it was Chipotle-ten-years-ago-good. The food was super flavorful and had a high turnover rate in the steam table; the stores were always brightly lit, clean, generally pleasant places; and you could get a tasty bowl of food (rice noodles, steak laab, charred green beans, tamarind vinaigrette, and pickled vegetables all day) in less than 90 seconds. Sure, ShopHouse was always inauthentic, watered down, and corporatized, but so was Chipotle, and that was why we all fell in love with it.
All this would make more sense if Chipotle was cutting all the extra fat and killing every moonshot concept it had sitting on the back burner, but less than a week before ShopHouse got axed, Chipotle opened Tasty Made, a fast-casual burger restaurant in Ohio (to incredibly bad reviews). Chipotle’s DIY personal pizza joint, Pizzeria Locale with seven locations around Colorado and Kansas, will also forge on.
Really? Pizza and burgers? The DIY, pseudo-Neapolitan, fast-casual pizza market has basically been cornered by Blaze with others like Pieology, Pizza Rev, and 800 Degrees giving chase. And, though I don’t have any data to support this, I’m sure there’s at least one other restaurant in America that specializes in hamburgers.
Chipotle did you dirty, ShopHouse. You were too good and pure for this world. You will be missed.