The queue was enormous, snaking around the side of the restaurant and into the packed parking lot, with those at its end as close to being squashed on Richmond Road as they were to actually getting in the door.
No, this was not the scene at the first nightclub to open in Williamsburg — although a couple of bouncers wouldn’t have looked out of place — but a new Chipotle franchise peddling free burritos to what seemed like half the College of William and Mary population, many of whom had been watching the building’s progress with a growing frenzy ever since the big red sign was first bluntly displayed.
While this shows the popularity of production-line, Tex-Mex food, it’s also testament to the enduring power of gimmicks and college students’ craving for novelty.
Not that Chipotle is that much of a novelty. It now has over 900 locations in 35 states, with a net income of $78 million — or one Alan B. Miller Hall — per year. Founded in Denver, Colo. in 1993, Chipotle’s largesse extends well beyond Williamsburg, as the young chain allegedly gave out free burritos to reporters during the 1997 trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Students at the College aren’t exactly lacking for places to eat, and — provided you have a car — there aren’t many chains you can’t get to within half an hour. Chipotle is just one in a sea of franchises on Richmond Road, but, like a drug dealer slipping a customer something on the stronger side in the hope of getting them hooked, it dangled its sweet queso under the noses of students to deadly effect, successfully wooing a clientele all Wawa’ed out and suffering from Five Guys fatigue.
All of this can’t dispel the feeling that this is consumerism gone a bit mad, but then the fact that a fast food chain can draw so many onto the streets by word-of-mouth alone is only surprising to someone who’s never heard of Black Friday. Ultimately, however, this is all that Chipotle is offering: fast food and everything that goes with it, including easily over 1,000 calories per burrito, some worryingly high sodium levels and, if you watch “South Park” as religiously as I do, an unfortunate effect on the patron’s underwear the day after.
Then again, why doesn’t the College make an effort to kick-start a student body clearly limping along as the semester nears its end? Is anyone up for free food at the Sadler Center? I can’t imagine there being such a stampede. How about a one-point jump in GPA for the first 100 students to complete the triathlon? What about a free disco in Earl Gregg Swem Library? (Scratch that last one; it’d never work.)
I didn’t get my burrito Thursday because I wasn’t prepared to wait two hours for it. I ended up going again on Saturday — prepared to shell out $7 this time — only to find that there were still people spilling out of the door.
Thus, my quest for Chipotle goes on, and I hope that giving burritos away wasn’t just another means of dressing up essentially mundane products to look irresistibly seductive, only for them to prove maddeningly disappointing at the end of the day.
I hope that the queso is as sweet as they say it is. Then again, I’ll probably be in need of some “Chipotle-Away,” as “South Park” would say, after all.
Email Tim MacFarlan at email@example.com