Mike Webb (nightvzn) wrote,
Mike Webb

Chipotle Comes to Central New York; Madness Ensues

Chipotle Comes to Central New York; Madness Ensues

Many who know me in real life are familiar with my affinity for Chipotle (the restaurant chain, not the flavoring element in the generic sense), and that I was legitimately bummed about having to leave it behind when I moved back to New York. I discovered it a few years into my time in the Bay Area, and by the time I left, there seemed to be one on every corner. It's a dietary staple in the region for those partial to Mexican culinary influences (and who don't consider chain restaurants to be beneath them and/or don't conflate supposed authenticity with quality). And I mean, really, it's reasonably cheap, filling, and vastly nutritionally superior to most other "fast food," plus the company is big on sustainable food sourcing. What's not to love?

(For those who might respond by disparagingly pointing out that Chipotle is owned by McDonalds, that is no longer the case as of several years ago, and strictly speaking it was only a majority stake in the first place. Besides, my understanding is that the relationship was largely financial and that Chipotle was left to run its own affairs according to its philosophies and principles.)

The good news for me has always been that unlike regional chains dearly departed from my diet since my return to the east coast (Rubio's, Una Mas, In-N-Out Burger, etc.), Chipotle is a national chain, and even international to a point (there are at least two Toronto locations as I write this). The bad news is that they've been slow to infiltrate New York State, especially in light of their explosive growth in California, not surprising considering the far more salient presence of Mexican cultural influences there. Several years ago, if I remember correctly, I checked Chipotle's restaurant locator for New York and found only one location, and it was in New York City. I've checked periodically since then, and they appear to be working their way through the state in order of decreasing city size (Buffalo, Rochester, Albany...). Following that trend, one might expect Syracuse to be next.

And sure enough, in October, Central New York's first Chipotle opened in Syracuse. One might harbor uncertainty about how a "new" style of cuisine might fare in an unknown market, but on opening day, any such fears were quickly put to rest:

(Click on thumbnail for full-size image; link opens in new window.)

Talk about pent-up demand. I'd been to grand openings at several Bay Area Chipotle locations (I'm a sucker for "free food for a year" opening-day-sweepstakes-type things), and it was never even remotely like this. That picture doesn't begin to do justice to how long the line was, nor how crowded the restaurant and parking lot were. And to put things in perspective, I took that picture at about 9:30 pm, half an hour before close. Chipotle locations are usually delightfully dead by that time of night, or maybe mildly busier on opening day, but certainly nothing like this.

Good and bad news for me once again. The good news was that Central New York is apparently eager to sustain healthy business for Chipotle, and I can safely expect them to continue working their way through the area until they've reached Ithaca. The bad news was that I didn't eat at Chipotle that night. I stayed long enough to take that picture, and then I was out of there. (There was a Subway conveniently situated across the street.) Also, I happened to be in Syracuse again a few days later to meet up with a transplanted fellow Chipotle-missing acquaintance, and we thought we'd check it out, in hopes that Syracuse had gotten the "ZOMG NEW CHIPOTLE FTW!!!" mania out of its system. But no such luck. It was still just as bad. Then somebody else I know texted me a few weeks later to say his group was going to stop there while passing through Syracuse (he'd never been to a Chipotle, but was intrigued after hearing my fanatical ravings). He later told me they'd waited in line for half an hour but then given up!

With Syracuse being just over an hour away, I wasn't exactly planning on making their new Chipotle a frequent destination, but it would have been fun to eat there once or twice after it opened, since I do miss it. (Yes, I have sentimental attachments to food. So what.) After all that, though, I gave up on the idea entirely. I happened to find myself in Syracuse one night last month, however, and I decided to give Chipotle one more shot since I was in the area. The attempt, near closing time, wasn't without its challenges -- they were out of chicken and a bunch of us had to wait for them to grill up some more, they were so low on cheese and had to ration it sparsely among the remaining customers, and they were completely out of chips for the night ... but they did hand out free sodas to those of us waiting for chicken, a pleasant reminder of their generally stellar customer service at both the restaurant and corporate levels (are you listening, Subway?).

But most importantly, I finally got what I'd waited so long for. And it was good.

(Click on thumbnail for full-size image; link opens in new window.)
Tags: bay area, binghamton, california, food, ithaca, new york, random adventures, upstate new york

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