In 1993, 27-year-old Steve Ells was doubting his ability to successfully launch a burrito stand called Chipotle. After all, Starbucks had passed on the Denver neighborhood the recent culinary school grad selected for his location. And if Starbucks didn’t think area residents were willing to buy $5 coffee, well, then they probably weren’t ready for equally expensive burritos and tacos.
Adding to the pressure was the $80,000 loan he received from his father for the project. Ells told Denver-based paper Westword in 2004 that while his father was supportive, he didn’t fully understand why the culinary school grad thought a burrito joint was a good idea.
But Ells proved him wrong in just a matter of days. On opening day — July 13, 1993, 6 p.m. MDT — the stand raked in $400, according to what Ells told Westword. The next day it was “a little bit more.” And as Chipotle took off, the burrito stand was set to make $1 million by the end of its first year. Soon enough, a Starbucks opened up a few blocks away.
There's Hope for Liberal Arts Majors
Before Steve Ells attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, he was just another undergraduate student at the University of Colorado. “I never took business classes in school. I studied art history, and I never really thought about the economics of a restaurant — only the food and the experience,” Ells said in a 2011 video interview on Chipotle’s YouTube channel.
Studying art history doesn’t exactly have the best rep — even Obama made fun of the major during a speech in January 2014: “Folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree,” he said last year. But Ells, who during college channeled his interest in art into “culinary experiments” like extra-hot chili, is getting the last laugh: He was paid $28.9 million in 2014, according to a recent SEC filing, and since Obama’s annual income is set by law at $400,000, Ells earns about 72 times more money than Obama.
Looks Can Be Deceiving
Can you guess how many calories are in your Chipotle burrito? The issue was so important that a team of PhD candidates conducted a scientific study on the matter, which was published last year in the journal Public Health Nutrition.
The study showed that, on average, participants who did not look at the calorie ranges on Chipotle’s menu underestimated the calories in a burrito by 37%, which equates to a mean underestimation of 336 calories. Participants weren’t much better at blindly estimating the calories in burrito bowls, either — on average, they underestimated the calories by 24%, which equates to a mean underestimation of 214 calories.
The Truth About Calories
One reason people are so bad at estimating their Chipotle calories is that, well, a meal at the chain can be pretty caloric. Half of the meals people order at Chipotle contain over 1,070 calories, according to a New York Times analysis of GrubHub data in February 2015. The recommended daily calories for adult men and women range from 2,000 to 3,000 and 1,600 to 2,400, respectively, depending on age and activity level, according to the USDA.
But how does that make sense, when, for example, the menu’s calorie range for burritos is about 400 to 900? Shouldn’t a normal burrito fall somewhere in the middle?
Nope. Opting for a soft flour tortilla means your order starts off at 300 calories. Add on black beans and rice, and you’re up to 605. Pile on some steak, and you’ve hit 795. With cheese, lettuce, guacamole and sour cream, an average burrito can top out at around 1,245 calories.
A Burrito Record
Think you scarf down your Chipotle burritos quickly? Competitive eater Matt Stonie is on record for eating a burrito in about 35 seconds. In the above video, he eats three more burritos, in addition to downing a Diet Coke, in just about three minutes. While no Guinness World Records officials appeared to be on hand, Stonie already has several world records under his belt, including eating 5 pounds of cake in 8 minutes and 59 seconds.
Chipotle's Twitter Fail
@Chipotle is a lot less popular on Twitter than you’d think: it has fewer than 600 followers on Twitter.
But who said @Chipotle is actually the beloved burrito brand? @Chipotle actually belongs to a man named Chip Clark, who joined Twitter in March 2007 and registered the handle before Chipotle (@ChipotleTweets) did. Here’s what Clark told TIME about the situation last week:
Besides not being able to secure @Chipotle, Chipotle has had a few other issues with Twitter, including a highly publicized hack in February 2015.
We're All Guilty
You might be Chipotle’s most loyal fan, but that doesn’t mean you’re its most honest customer. Chances are you’ve asked for a free water cup and then filled it with soda.
The good news is you’re not alone. There’s no scientific research on this issue, but one high school student decided to take a stab at it. The student’s study shockingly found that 46% of people asking for water cups filled them with soda.
Take the results with a grain of salt, though. After all, the student’s report was entered in the American Statistical Association’s annual competition for different grade levels, failed to win and contained many assumptions. But still — that 46% is totally believable, right? After all, people have charged with a felony for filling free water cups with soda.
From Summer Job to Six-Figure Salary
One reason Chipotle has become so successful, Quartz reported last year, is the way it treats its employees — especially entry-level crew members. The company’s “restauranteur program” outlines a path on which an hourly wage employee can become a general manager (GM) with a $100,000 salary. Once a GM is promoted to restauranteur, s/he receives a $10,000 bonus for each crew member promoted to GM, as an incentive to cultivate and retrain the company’s talent.
You're Missing Out
How a mega-popular fast food chain has a “secret menu” is still a mystery. According to HacktheMenu.com, there are eight items on Chipotle’s secret menu, which range from hybrid creations like the “Quesarito” and “Burritodilla,” to basic orders of fresh cilantro and a single taco.
And apparently it’s no joke, either. A Business Insider reporter popped into a random Chipotle store last year and ordered a Quesarito with no problems. “You’re never going to go back to a burrito. It’s like crack,” said one Chipotle worker, who, like all other staff, are reportedly trained to make these orders.
Another Reason to Desire Fame
Every now and then a celebrity sets off a digital firestorm by revealing they are in possession of something very valuable: the almost mythical free-burritos-for-life card.
These secret burrito club cards give the holders one free burrito per day for the rest of their life. If a card holder went every day, it would amount to around $3,600 worth of free burritos per year.
Several celebrities, including many athletes, are reportedly in possession of these cards, which function as a viral marketing tool for Chipotle. Bryce Harper, TJ Warren, Russell Wilson, Abby Wambach, Tony Hawk and Drew Gooden have all proudly showed off their cards on social media.
Update: Chipotle communications director Chris Arnold reached out to TIME and said that celebrity card holders get free burritos for one year, not for life.
Chipotle's Secret Stores
Can’t get enough Chipotle? Well, Chipotle can’t either — apparently the $22 billion burrito joint doesn’t satisfy the company’s hunger for more business. So in 2011, Chipotle entered a secret partnership — unveiled only last year — with a Denver-based pizza chain to launch a new fast-casual restaurant.
Pizzeria Locale has two locations in Colorado — with plans to open another shop in Kansas City, Mo., later this year. It’s already killing it on Yelp, where it has a four-star average.
Chipotle also has 10 Southeast Asian-style joints called ShopHouse in the Los Angeles, Calif., and Washington, D.C., areas.