Owner-manager Sharif Farouq’s Tomatillo Taco Joint has been open for just three months on Elm Street, but in just three more months, Farouq and other New Haven burrito vendors may face their toughest competition yet.
In the wake of last week’s news that a Chipotle Mexican Grill will open on Chapel Street in early 2013, many local burrito carts and restaurants are concerned about their ability to compete with the national chain. Their customers, meanwhile, are split between excitement about Chipotle’s arrival and apprehension about the chain’s potential to change the Elm City’s burrito landscape.
“That’s not good news,” Farouq said upon learning that Chipotle was coming to town. But he said he remained confident in his small business’s ability to provide a better dining experience than Chipotle, which he described as “very standard.” He added that Tomatillo’s advantages over the chain include daily fresh food, seafood, smoothies, specials and desserts.
Rony Nabas, a vendor in Rubamba’s Ay! Arepa cart on York Street, said his low prices would help him stay competitive when Chipotle arrives.
Down the block, Israel Perez just opened his burrito cart, the Portabello, two weeks ago. He says business has been good so far, and he is currently trying to find a small storefront location nearby.
“I don’t think [Chipotle] will affect us,” he said. “It’s a different flavor.” He said he will even eat at Chipotle himself, and he knows that his customers also like to “try here and there.”
While some Yale community members expressed their enthusiasm for Chipotle, others feared the effects of another chain’s presence in New Haven. In a survey of 16 Yale student burrito eaters, nine said they would prefer supporting a local business to eating at Chipotle.
In line at Perez’s cart, Lukas Moe GRD ’17, a self-described frequent burrito eater, said he was concerned by Chipotle’s upcoming debut in New Haven.
“It’s a corporate takeover,” he said, “For a city that has so many small, independent restaurants, we should be careful about bringing in the biggest chains in the country.”
Waiting to order at Ay! Arepa, Sean Gaudette ’14 said he disliked Chipotle for its “fast-food vibe,” adding that its location on the far side of the New Haven Green was inconvenient for him.
Others, like Jared Katzman ’16, cannot wait to have Chipotle nearby. Katzman said he is a Chipotle fanatic, adding that the first solid food meal he ate after the removal of his wisdom teeth was a Chipotle burrito.
Less than a block away from the construction site of the new Chipotle, Shake Shack manager Anna Monaco said she looked forward to having another nearby lunch option.
“Bringing more easy dining options is never a bad thing unless [they] … overrun a neighborhood.”
Chipotle currently operates more than 1,000 restaurants nationwide.