New Chipotle near campus finishes construction.
Jan. 15 was a typical day in the area surrounding Fresno State as students trickled back into town and across campus in anticipation of a new semester.
Except for one thing: the much-anticipated opening of Chipotle across the street. In December, the popular Mexican fast-food chain announced plans to open its newest Fresno location on the corners of Shaw and Cedar avenues in what used to be the building of The Big Swirl The Big Cheese.
With the multitude of restaurants in the area surrounding campus, one might wonder why Chipotle is such a big deal.
Though there were already three Chipotle locations in the Fresno and Clovis area, none of them were close to Fresno State. The Sierra Vista Mall, River Park and Fig Garden Village locations are each more than three miles away from campus in different directions.
The new store is more accessible to students on campus, especially those living in the dorms or without cars.
General manager Jeanette Naunheimer estimated that 80 percent of customers are Fresno State students.
“Many of the crew members are students, too. And for many of them, it’s their first job, but it’s obvious they are very excited to be at work,” she said.
Naunheimer, who started with the company 12 years ago as a crew member, has been a manager for seven years and has managed two other locations in Visalia and Fig Garden Village. She said that she came to the new location because it is always an exciting opportunity to open a new store.
What drew her to work for Chipotle was a situation with which most people are familiar.
“I was just looking for a job,” Naunheimer said. She said other attributes were the restaurant’s involvement with communities through supporting local farms and the use of hormone-free, natural resources for their food and packaging.
Chipotle was founded in 1993 by chef Steve Ells in Denver. As his restaurant expanded and he began researching food-processing practices in the U.S., Ells made the shift to only using naturally raised pork, chicken and beef in his restaurants over the years. As of 2007, Chipotle no longer uses cheese or sour cream from cows treated with rBGH, a hormone that stimulates milk production.
Naunheimer said that crew members come into work at 8 a.m. to begin preparing the food fresh for the day. She said that the new store still receives calls daily asking if it is open yet.
“I think it’s so popular with college students because it’s affordable and tasty,” said Elsbeth Murata, a 25-year-old forensic science graduate student. She believes the quality of the food, convenience, speed and price are what help the chain maintain its customer loyalty.
Murata said she usually eats at the Fig Garden Village location often because it’s next door to where she works and has no complaints about the food or the service. However, her first experience at the new location did not change her opinion.
“They were busy and you could tell they were new, but it was still good,” Murata said.
Another distinguishing factor is that unlike most fast-food restaurants, Chipotle’s food is prepared right in the restaurant by crew members, including the guacamole.
“It’s a lot of hard work, but we have fun, and it’s so rewarding,” Naunheimer said with a smile. “I think that people appreciate that it’s fast-paced, but not fast food.”
Chipotle is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Orders can be placed in advance by calling 559-490-0136, faxed to 559-222-2089, the Chipotle smartphone application or online at chipotle.com.