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Tuesday, April 05, 2011 - Chipotle Mexican Grill? Maybe not.
 
I see that it's been close to a year since I last wrote on this blog. Apparently my life is so boring, that there is nothing to write, or maybe I just don't feel like sharing...

Until today.

You see, I just got off the phone with John Saucedo (maybe not his real last name, it is very difficult to understand on my voicemail) with Chipotle "Mexican Grill." John called me, after I left a message with the Chipotle corporate office, yesterday. I'll start at the beginning.

Since sometime in 2001 or 2002, I've been an avid customer of Chipotle. It started at the Chipotle that opened up down the street from me in Redlands, CA. While I enjoyed their vegetarian burritos, what became my regular was a couple of sides of their excellent cilantro-lime rice, with some of their tomato salsa on top. Fresh, this was tasty, but it even held up to refrigeration, and nuking a day or two later. As I worked about 3 doors down from this Chipotle, I was there regularly. Then I moved, and didn't have a Chipotle so convenient, or nearby.

In the last couple of years, this has changed, as more and more Chipotle restaurants popped up. About 2 or 3 years ago, a friend of mine asked me if I'd ever had a Chipotle quesadilla. I didn't even know they had such a thing, but tried one the next chance I got. (It's not on the menu at most locations.)

The simple cheese quesadilla was tasty, but I wanted a bit of tomato-ey goodness, so asked the restaurant to add tomatoes while they cooked the quesadilla. (I'd been spoiled by some little Mexican joint that did this somewhere along the way.) And goodness, with the tomato salsa cooked into the quesadilla, it was INCREDIBLE, the kind of thing you begin to crave.

Wikipedia defines "quesadilla" like this (emphasis mine):
A quesadilla is usually made with a corn tortilla and is filled primarily with cheese and other ingredients such as cooked meat, refried beans, and vegetables. The filled tortilla is then toasted under a boiler or fried, usually until the cheese is melted. Once the quesadilla is cooked, it is traditionally cut into slices, or wedges.
What's not to love!

Chipotle is careful to make their quesadillas. They start with the flour tortilla, add the cheese right in front of you, (and tomato salsa, in my case), and then wrap the entire thing up in a big piece of thick tinfoil. Then it's placed into their "grill presses". After, it's opened up, cut with a knife, wrapped back up, and given to you!

And then the trouble started. My next visit to a Los Angeles area Chipotle, I was told by the employee that they were not allowed to put the tomato salsa into the quesadilla. It was not an issue of cost, but that the grill presses couldn't accommodate it. That struck me as odd, as for the last number of times, the grill presses and employees had accommodated my request just fine!

Indeed, this started to become a problem at many Chipotle's that I visited. Almost every Chipotle was now saying it was impossible for them to add tomatoes to my quesadilla, until after it was cooked. Reasons varied from "it messes up our presses", to "it takes too long in the press", to "it will damage our equipment."

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why I want my tomato salsa cooked inside. Chipotle's cut up tomato salsa, or, really, pico de gallo, is a fresh salsa, with fresh tomatoes, perhaps some onions, maybe some cilantro, seasonings and a touch of green and hot pepper. Anybody will attest that a fresh tomato tastes completely different than a cooked one. And, when I could get Chipotle to put my tomatos into the grill presses, the flavor of the tomatoes, onions, and green and hot pepper seasonings would just spread throughout the whole thing. A light touch of zest greeted me with each bite.

Now, Chipotle would only add their tomato salsa, AFTER the quesadilla was cooked. Since a cheese quesadilla is just cheese and a flour tortilla grilled up together, adding some refrigerated salsa at the end had the effect of cooling down the quesadilla, and adding a fresh tomato taste, not the experience I was looking for.

The difference is amazing. The quesadilla with baked-in salsa? EXCELLENT. The quesadilla with ingredients added on later? BLAND, cold, and not at all notable.

This couldn't be right, I decided. I mean, why can't a restaurant honor a simple customer request? So, I went to Chipotle.com and submitted a note. As I wrote this on my iPhone, there are a few mistakes...
I've been to many chipotles and enjoy your food. However, in the last few months, the restaurants (more than just this one) refuse to make the simplest of items for me. I like a large cheese quesadilla with a few tomatoes (salsa) cooked into it. This should be simple for a restaurant that bills itself a "Mexican grill". The employees ans their managers refuse, saying that it hurt the grills or create a mess on them. Yet to create the quesadilla, they wrap the entire thing in tin foil. How could a few tomatoes get on the grill any more than the cheese that has been put in? And how would the cheese or tomatoes get through the tinfoil envelope they've created anyway? I would think that satisfying the simplest request from a customer would be more important than some arbitrary policy or procedure.
Within a few days, Louisa Fredrickson (lfredrickson@chipotle.com) wrote me back:
Thanks for writing us. I am sorry that you were not able to receive salsa on your quesadilla with your recent order from our Sunset Blvd. restaurant. I am not sure what the intensions were here, but we first cook the quesadilla, and then add in any additional salsas after it has been cooked. Did they put the salsa that you asked for in your quesadilla after it was done? If not, we apologize for this inconvenience, and we’ll follow-up with our team at this location and make sure that we assemble our orders as our guests request.

For your less than satisfactory experience, I’d like to offer you a free burrito card (good for quesadillas too). Simply send me your mailing address and I will get that to you shortly. When we miss the mark we really appreciate guests who take the time to help us realize how we can improve on what we do.

We hope that you’ll give us another try and come see us again soon!

Sincerely,

Louisa
Apparently Louisa didn't quite understand either. So I wrote her back (with my mailing address):
Hi, Louisa,

Thanks for your response. I understand that in general, for some reason that doesn't make any sense to me, that you want to cook the quesadilla first, and then add additional items. However, sometime you should really try a quesadilla with the tomato salsa cooked into it. The light green peppers and other flavors of the salsa really spread throughout the quesadilla, and make it very delicious. When you add the cold salsa after the quesadilla has cooked, it just makes the whole quesadilla cold, and the flavors don't react in the same way.

I really wish there wouldn't be a problem with cooking the salsa into the quesadilla. It's such a simple request, and makes the item so much more delicious. I urge you to try it!

Other mexican style grills in town, and even some "food trucks" so popular in Los Angeles are making a similar item, and have green chilies and such cooked into the quesadilla. It's so very tasty.

Thanks.
Louisa responded:
Thanks for getting back to me. Please share your request next time with our Sunset Blvd team and they will cook your quesadilla with the salsa inside. I will follow-up with them again and make sure that we accommodate this request. While this may be the standard way we prepare the quesadilla, we can certainly make it the way you like it too. I will send that card shortly.

-Louisa
I had one more question for Louisa:
Louisa,

Just curious: will only the Sunset team be permitted to make my quesadilla to my request?

Thanks.
She responded:
No, this applies to all of our locations. While we may have a standard way of preparing our quesadillas, all of our teams should accommodate your request. Just make it known to them and they will make it just as you’d like it.

-Louisa

Louisa Fredrickson | Marketing Consultant
Chipotle Mexican Grill
I was thrilled. Now, I could finally have a tasty quesadilla again, and there shouldn't be any problems. I even made sure to save the email so that I could show it to employees who might have questions, and to show them that their Chipotle corporate office had approved the addition of tomato salsa into my quesadilla.

For about a month, I didn't go to Chipotle, for whatever reason, but one day, I began craving the quesadilla again! I stopped by the Sunset Boulevard location and asked for the quesadilla with tomato salsa cooked inside. The employee told me that it was not possible. I politely argued with the employee, who called over his manager. The manager would also not budge. Apparently, at Chipotle, the customer is NOT always right. So, I pulled out my phone, and looked up the trusty email from Louisa. I showed the email to this manager, who, after reading it carefully, decided that "this one time, we'll make an exception for you."

By the time I got to the register, I was being "dealt with" by 3 employees: the register person, the manager, and a new guy who, when asked, identified himself as Marc Montoya, the general manager. And, the manager also had a guy on a cordless phone he claimed was his boss, and I could speak to him if I liked. Each of them explained that I could not get tomato salsa inside the quesadilla, until after it was cooked. This time, Marc the general manager noted that putting tomato salsa inside the quesadilla while it cooked would cause the grill presses to crack.

When I pointed out that Louisa at the corporate office didn't seem to have any trouble with this issue, Marc let me know in sharp words that he didn't care what the corporate office had to say, as this was HIS restaurant, and if HIS employees broke the press that HE would have to pay for it, NOT the corporate office. I also declined to speak to the "boss" on the manager's phone, as I noted I already had confirmation from the corporate office, that would seem to be enough confirmation for me!

After my visit, on a lark, I dialed 1-800-Chipotle, and it rang to the corporate office. In the online phone book, I dialed in Louisa's name, and got her extension. I left a message for Louisa, explaining my problem again.

The next day (today), I got a message on my phone from John ???? from Chipotle. John, who called me from 530-301-0636, in Marysville, CA claims to be the regional manager, who oversees the Chipotle restaurants.



When I called him back, he explained that he cannot allow the restaurants to cook tomato salsa into the quesadillas, due to "cross contamination." He said something to the effect of "we can't have tomato juices getting into all of our products and our grills, in case people are allergic to tomatoes." I noted that if cross contamination was the true problem, then what about people allergic to cheese, what about that tinfoil envelope that kept everything inside of it, and what about vegetarians? The "buffet"-style setup of the Chipotle serving line pretty much guarantees that meat pieces, cheese, rice, and all sorts of products are mixed, even slightly, just in the normal course of business. Like the others, John was firm. His employees were NOT going to put tomato salsa into the quesadilla. I also asked John why I've heard so many different reasons for this "policy." John could only repeat his lines, and had no insight. I mentioned to John that I'm not here to run his business and tell him what to do, but it would seem that they could find a way to honor a simple customer request.  I noted that I was not asking him or his employees to do something like "add a whole chicken to my quesadilla", that he could not accommodate, due to the size of the presses.

The call was over, nothing had been accomplished, and I'm left wondering why it is so difficult for a place that advertises itself as a "Mexican Grill" to grill up a terribly simple quesadilla. I can't understand why a company that proclaims that you "start with the basics, and customize as needed to build your perfect meal" really won't. I don't understand this willful and apparent disconcern for the concerns of the customer. I'm at a loss to figure out why the company says, "You can watch the process as your burrito, bowl, tacos, or salad is prepared exactly the way you want it and handed to you almost instantly," (emphasis mine) and yet this apparently doesn't apply to their quesadillas.

UPDATE, April 13, 2011: After I posted my questions on the Chipotle Facebook, a guy "Joe" there has vowed that I'll be able to get whatever I want on my quesadilla, except meat, which, if you know me, know isn't a problem. So, perhaps a happy ending? I'll have to try this, soon.

http://www.facebook.com/chipotle/posts/191755760867447

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Comments:
Don't eat there.
 
Seriously, quit your bitchin. If the service is so terrible why are you even going there? It's not the people who work there faults. They are told they cannot do something so they do as they are told. Special quesadillas are not a normal thing for Chipotle, and just because you want special treatment doesn't mean you will get it. If this is so upsetting why aren't you buying the ingredients yourself (about the same price as you are charged only you can make more food) and make them yourself. Get over yourself and stop crying all over the internet.
 
I love comments where the poster is so ashamed of their post, they won't even put their name to it!
 
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