Or “How to Succeed at Chipotle Without Really Crying”
From Scott Thompson. Follow Scott on Twitter @foureyedblond
I have a crush on my Chipotle manager.
It’s the truth — a waistline shattering truth that has wreaked havoc on my daily routine. I imagine my tale is not unique. In a city where restaurants trump recipes, the potential of mixing food and romance is an ever-present danger.
It all started three weeks ago at the tortilla station.
I had stepped out for dinner mid-way through a late night at work. The neighborhood surrounding my office is filled with dietary landmines, Chipotle being the most dangerous. The queue moves fast, the menu options always appear fresh and the dim warehouse-chic lighting smooths away stress lines. It’s an evil combination that has resulted in a monthly mail delivery from my mother, containing a Chipotle gift card and a reminder to “eat more fruit.”
That night three weeks ago started out like any other night. I put on my coat, walked across the street and prepared for the weekly Sophian choice between tortilla and bowl.
“Three soft tacos to go, please,” I said quietly, reaching for my wallet to extract the gift card.
“Corn tortillas or flour?” said a voice.
My eyes lifted from the glass counter and met those of a stranger. I had more or less memorized the faces of my local Chipotle team. This face was new. He stood roughly at my height, wearing hipster glasses, a black shirt and a curious smile.
“I… didn’t… know you had corn tortillas?” (True.) “They are more authentically Mexican, right?” (True). “Sorry, I just haven’t been here in a while.” (Laughably false.)
“Not many people do. And to be frank, corn tortillas are really only good if you’re dining in – the tortillas fall apart quickly if you add salsa.”
“Oh, that makes sense.” I fumbled in my coat pocket, desperate for a missed text that could distract me from the chiseled hands that pushed my aluminum dish down the counter.
“Pico de gallo?”
I said yes, and asked for extra medium sauce — the final frontier before I could move to the cashier and escape with my meal and dignity in hand.
“Careful! I don’t want you to get sauce on that nice sweater of yours!” said the smiling eyes behind the frames.
Everything disintegrated from that point forward.
“Oh I won’t! Haha!” I barked, as my head fell backwards and to the left, as if I were auditioning for the scene inPretty Woman when Richard slams the jewelry case shut in front of an unsuspecting Julia.
The elevated eyebrows on the cashier’s face summarized the entire spectacle.
Two days later I returned for lunch, with curious colleagues in tow. “You have great glasses,” I muttered somewhere between pinto and pollo. He thanked me, feigned recognition and moved to the next customer.
A week later, I returned in the evening, hoping to recreate our first encounter, away from the frenzied lunch crowd.
“Hi, again,” I said, timidly waving my gloved hand above the counter. At this point, I might as well have held up a sprig of Cilantro, sang “It Only Takes a Moment” and called it a day.
Unrequited crushes are as tragic as they are common. In the days and weeks since, I have realized that “we” will never be. I continue to cross the street to Chipotle from time to time, smiling quietly as I proceed down the buffet line before going on my way. But I have accepted fate – as well as an existential truth that I never fully understood, until now.
The connection between food and love is sacred – as is the separation. Parisians cannot fall in love with their local baker. Italians cannot fall in love with their local barista. I cannot fall in love with my local Chipotle manager. It would break down the precious relationship between chef and customer — between daily routine and daily meal — between romantic dreams and romantic realities.
I will forever be grateful to Chipotle for opening my eyes to this fact.
And to Qdoba, for opening a franchise across the street.
This column originally ran on Borderstan.com on February 7, 2012.