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14 Mouth-Watering Facts About Chipotle

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It’s the restaurant that knows exactly what you want: An entire meal wrapped up in a giant tortilla. So it should come as no surprise that Chipotle is one of the fastest-growing chains in the U.S., with more than 1,800 locations and 200 more going up this year alone. You probably ate lunch there today, in fact. But while its huge burritos, quirky music and a focus on fresh, sustainable ingredients are well known, peel back the foil and you’ll discover there’s a lot you didn’t know about this fast-casual empire.

1. Its CEO studied art history and attended the Culinary Institute of America.

Founder Steve Ells had no intention of running a multibillion-dollar restaurant chain. He started Chipotle in 1993 as a step toward one day opening a fine-dining establishment. Once he was selling more than 1,000 burritos a day (his initial goal was just over 100), though, he realized he was on to something.

2. Inspiration came by way of San Francisco.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1990, Ells moved to San Francisco, where he worked as a sous chef at the now legendary Stars, run by former Chez Panisse chef Jeremiah Tower. There, the emphasis was on fresh ingredients, and the restaurant kept its kitchen clean and shining, and in full view of patrons. Combine this aesthetic with the foil-wrapped, Mission-style burritos that were becoming popular at the time, and voila — Chipotle’s recipe for success.

3. The first restaurant was barely functional.

Ells opened the first Chipotle in a business-poor neighborhood of Denver, in a former Dolly Madison ice cream parlor. Businesses along the block shared water access, which meant Chipotle’s soda machine didn’t work if someone was getting a shampoo at the salon next door. Add to that petty thievery, a puzzling menu, and a hideous green-and-white sign, and it’s a wonder the restaurant stayed afloat.

4. McDonald’s helped it grow.

No, the Golden Arches does not own Chipotle, contrary to popular belief—though it owned a controlling stake in the company from 1998 to 2006. During that time, the Mexican fast-casual concept went from 13 locations to more than 500. McDonald’s divested once Chipotle went public, earning a tidy sum that could have been much, much more, considering Chipotle’s earnings have tripled since then.

5. The whole local, sustainable focus hasn't always been a thing.


It wasn’t until Ells read about Niman Ranch and its all-natural, humanely raised meat that he became interested. One plate of Niman pork tacos later, the deal was sealed. Now the chain is all-in: It’s the largest buyer of all-natural meat in the U.S., has lobbied for legislation to increase the supply of hormone- and antibiotic-free meat, and recently phased out genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from its supply chain.

6. There is no secret menu—but you can get a gut-busting "quesarito" if you ask.

Fans and news outlets alike have spent a considerable amount of energy trying to figure out if the company has a secret menu. Chipotle’s spokesman, meanwhile, is adamant that there is no secret menu, but that workers are free to build customizable orders. Whatever the case, the 1,500-calorie quesarito—it’s exactly what it sounds like—has become a favorite.

7. It has a DJ on the payroll to curate its in-store music.

You won’t hear any Billboard chart toppers while chowing down on your steak burrito. That’s thanks to Chris Golub, a Brooklyn DJ and owner of Studio Orca, which creates customized playlists (or “musical identities,” to use his lingo) for Chipotle and other brands. He became friends with Ells in 1998 after the two met at a Denver food and wine festival. In 2010, the CEO came to him and said, essentially, “dude, our music sucks.”

8. Its supply trucks have a pretty funny sign on the back.

To stymie roving gangs of burrito-loving bandits, presumably.

9. News Flash: Just because it's all-natural doesn't mean it's healthy.

Just because the sour cream is free of growth hormones doesn’t mean it's any less fattening. In a recent study, participants underestimated the number of calories in their Chipotle burrito by an average of 37%. A fully loaded burrito, some detractors say, is worse for you than a Big Mac. The company, meanwhile, points to the customizability of its meals. You don’t HAVE to pile on the guac, sour cream and cheese, after all.

10. Celebrities and athletes get custom-made cards giving them free burritos for a year.

Russell Wilson, Bryce Harper and Steven Tyler are just a few of the big names who receive customized cards entitling them to free burritos for a year. Before you get (understandably) angry at the thought of millionaires getting free burritos, consider this: It’s a marketing move. Many of the celebs Tweet their gratitude to thousands of followers, which amounts to low-cost advertising for Chipotle.

11. And speaking of celebrities: Jason Mraz is on their list of ingredients suppliers.


The Grammy-winning singer/songwriter keeps a five-and-a-half acre avocado farm that supplies around 35,000 pounds each year to Chipotle. He says he plans to retire at 40 so he can farm, surf and do charity work. Sounds like a pretty sweet gig.

12. There are free burrito coins floating around out there.

Starting in 1999, Chipotle started giving out free burrito coins to loyal customers. Though no longer minted, the coins are still out there, most likely in the hands of workers and their friends. You can also find some on eBay, though they’re going for more than the actual cost of a burrito.

13. They’re looking beyond burritos for growth.

In 2011, Chipotle opened ShopHouse, a fast-casual restaurant that applies the same build-your-own format to Southeast Asian cuisine. The chain now operates a dozen locations on both coasts, and seems bent on serious growth. Chipotle also runs a Pizzeria Locale in Denver, which could conquer the pizza industry—if the LeBron James-backed Blaze Pizza doesn’t beat it to the punch.

14. Yale is really interested in its cups and paper bags.

That cup with all the writing on it that you just threw away—yeah, it’s kind of a big deal. The Yale Rare Book Library recently added Chipotle bags and cups that are part of the company’s “Cultivating Thoughts” series to its collection. The brainchild of author Jonathan Safran Foer, the paper items feature short stories, essays and poems by the likes of Jeffrey Eugenides, Barbara Kingsolver and Toni Morrison.  

Afternoon Map
From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State

There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
The Body
10 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.


The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."


The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.


The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.


The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.


The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.


For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.


Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.


You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.


In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.


When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.


On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."


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