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Burritos with a conscience

Chipotle.jpgI’ve just eaten at the Chipotle Mexican Grill at the Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham for the third time since it opened Dec. 9, and I’m so excited about the place!
Normally, I’m not into chains, but I love that this one uses as much humanely raised and antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken, beef, and pork as it can get. The company also buys about 30 percent of its beans from organic sources, uses dairy from cows that were not injected with growth hormone, and is on a continuing mission to find the highest quality ingredients it can.
I also love that Steve Ells, the founder and CEO, is forthcoming about the status of the food the company buys.
At this point, according to Chipotle’s extensive website, all the pork the company uses is raised naturally — meaning that the animals are not confined in factories, not given antibiotics, and are free to roam — but only 50 percent of the beef is.
Ells opened the first Chipotle in Denver in 1993. According to the website, all he originally wanted to do was make great burritos and tacos with the best ingredients he could find.
It wasn’t until he’d become educated on the state of factory farming in 2001 that he began searching out more sustainably raised foods.
The company’s motto is “Food with Integrity,” which, according to Ells, includes foods that are unprocessed, family-farmed, sustainable, nutritious, naturally raised, hormone free, organic, or artisanal.
But that’s not all. Everybody I’ve spoken to who works at the restaurant seems to love it — go see for yourself.
I was drawn into the place by talking with Rob Jacobson, a friendly, informative guy working behind the prep counter on my first visit.
I’ve since spoken to six employees, and they’ve all raved about loving their jobs!
Chipotle is cafeteria style in that you stand in line and tell the servers what you want, and they make it in front of you.
On my first visit, the place was crowded enough that I had a few minutes in line near the prep area of the counter, where Jacobson was repeatedly rinsing an enormous pot of uncooked rice. I couldn’t help but ask how many times he was going to rinse it — four or five as it turns out — which started us talking.
While Jacobson worked the rice, he tried to engage the rest of the people in line around me.
“Why do you think I rinse it?” he asked. When the teenagers in front of me didn’t answer, I couldn’t help but pipe up.
“To get the starch out?” I said, as though I was in 7th grade.
“Exactly,” he answered, going on to rave about the restaurant’s foods.
On my most recent visit, a whole new crew was just as friendly and candid as Jacobson.
I was standing in the prep area again, deciding what to have, as the line moved around me. Two guys were working prep — Mark Elliott and Jae Ennis — and two others were assembling customers’ orders.
Elliott was shredding pork, and Ennis had just donned a steel mesh glove that must be worn when slicing.
“I would have sliced right through my fingers if I hadn’t had this on the other day,” said Ennis. I’ve already heard from another guy that the gloves cost about $85 and that people get fired if they don’t wear them.
“That’s good stuff,” a customer said to his friend as he nodded toward the pork Elliott was shredding.
“The carnitas?” said Elliot, picking up the guy’s comment. “It’s awesome!”
It’s a slow, post-holiday night, so I get to ask the workers, straight out, why they seem to like the place so much.
“It’s the people who work here, we have an awesome crew,” said Elliott. “I’ve worked in restaurants for 10 years, and this is the first job where I’ve looked forward to going to work.”
As Ennis busts Elliott about working that long in restaurants, I talked to service manager Jaime Keys.
“I love our mission as far as animal welfare; we’re striving for sustainable farming,” she said. “And the atmosphere is great.”
Keys talks about the company’s orientation process for new employees and its idea that everyone strive for “food, feel, and flow” — meaning that all three factors have to be right for the restaurant to be working well.
“We love our people to have personalities and to use them — everybody’s really friendly.”
I’ll say. And what a great thing for a chain of 870 restaurants to be raising awareness about striving to create a more sustainable food chain to improve the welfare of people, animals, and the land.
All right!
For more information on Chipotle, go to