Day 276 – National Totally Chipotle Day

Ok, I kind of took some liberties on the holiday. The day is meant as a way to celebrate the chipotle pepper which if you don’t know is a smoked, dried jalapeno pepper. Chipotle peppers took the country by storm over the last 20 years or so and now they are pretty common. Now they make everything in chipotle flavor from potato chips to barbecue sauce to lattes (ok, maybe not lattes). It’s a buzzword in the food community but more than that, it’s a flavor that we fell in love with. Adding to the popularity of the chipotle pepper was the rise of the Chipotle quick service burrito place. I don’t know if Chipotle the restaurant has anything to do with actual chipotle peppers other than using them as an ingredient in one of their marinades, but I do know that their popularity coincided with the rise in popularity of the chipotle pepper, so more than likely, seeing the word chipotle in more and more places made the general public comfortable with this strange new food and word. (By the way, it’s pronounced chi-poat-lay.) I picked up some Chipotle burritos for dinner tonight which is how I took some liberties with National Totally Chipotle Day. I may not have had chipotle peppers, but for dinner, we went totally Chipotle.

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I ordered these when I was getting out of work via the Chipotle phone app which was very convenient. I placed the order and by the time I got there, they were ready for pick up. We’ve been a fan of Chipotle for a long time. In fact, on a trip we once took to Chicago (which was probably in 2002 or so), someone we worked with said we HAD to try this special burrito place called Chipotle. We sought it out and were amazed at how good it was. Fresh, simple and as big as our head. Then we watched them grow. Suddenly they came to New England. One of our favorite pastimes in NH was going to a matinee at the movies and then grabbing some Chipotle to go on the way home (it was right next to the theater). They have only been here (on Aquidneck Island) for about a year but we have been loyal fans since their arrival. They’ve changed a bit which will happen when you see the kind of growth they’ve experienced. They had that whole food contamination scare too, so it’s not the brand it once was, but at the end of the day, it’s a good burrito. Their guacamole and chips are top notch too. It was a long day and a Chipotle burrito was a good little way to cap it off.

Today being National Totally Chipotle Day coincides with another holiday: Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo is a holiday in Mexico which celebrates a victory over the French in  the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It’s not Mexican Independence Day, just a celebration of an important victory. It’s actually more widely celebrated in the United States than in Mexico. I know this because I was part of the Cinco de Mayo celebration machine for the last 19 years. In fact, this year was the first year that Cinco de Mayo had very little impact in my life other than bringing back memories from years past. It was a big day for us in my previous life – the busiest day of the year by far. There would be lines out the door. We needed bouncers and police detail to keep order. It was an all hands on deck kind of day and you would work your ass off from the time you came in until the time you left. And it would be fun too. Everyone seemed to be in good moods. Sure there were some hiccups along the way, but for the most part, it was just a fun day. I missed that feeling today.

Even in the last few years when I was working on our Marketing Team and not part of the restaurant operations, we would take trips to visit as many locations as we could. We would usually get a designated driver and a big car and move from location to location just to see how it was going. We’d get feedback from the staff and the guests, take some pictures, make some observations and we even got to quality test the margaritas. That’s not a bad way to spend a day of work. It would end up being a day where you would catch up with old amigos whether that meant your friends in the restaurants or friends you used to work with that would come back for the day to join the fun. Cinco was in our blood and we all had shared a crazy experience together. It’s hard to just let that feeling go.

In my earlier days at the restaurant, probably on my second or third Cinco de Mayo when things were a bit different, I remember the excitement of being a manager. I was working at the location near Storrs, CT and the place was filled with tons of college kids. You’d be running all day and night. Upstairs, downstairs, to the Loft, to the kitchen, stock the bar, check the host stand. It was constant motion for ten hours and you’d have a smile on your face the whole time. Then as the night started to slow down, the competition with other locations and managers began. You’d get notice how much they had done in sales. Then you’d report what you did. There was a point of bragging about how busy your night was and everyone was checking in with each other. Then, after the doors were locked, you’d get a a group call from another store and you’d do a ‘phone social’ shot of tequila together. That was the perfect way to end the night. Those days are long gone, but that’s the excitement I think of when I reflect back on all my Cinco de Mayos.

I was thinking about all those memories today. There is a group of us that check in with each other and we texted each other throughout the day subtly acknowledging that Cinco de Mayo no longer means that much to us. We thought about good times, we got critical of current times and we joked with each other too. It was just a feeling of missing something that had been a big part of your life for so long. We really would spend half the year planning for Cinco de Mayo. Now it was just a random holiday, no more important than National Totally Chipotle Day. At about 10 pm, when we were getting ready for bed (crazy kids that we are), Lola was in the bathroom brushing her teeth and I went around the house to turn out all the lights. I’m not sure why, but in that moment of being alone, I grabbed a glass and poured myself a shot of some Corazon tequila. Then, in the dull light of our dining room in a very quiet house, I gulped it down after speaking a hushed little, “Salud!” aimed at all my Cinco friends out there in the restaurant world. It was my way to honor the memories we shared.

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Life moves on and my life is actually better now than it has been in a long time (although not without its challenges). Still, when you live one way for so many years and a particular day becomes an important event every year, it’s hard to just let it go. Cinco de Mayo will always bring me memories of fun times with really fun people. It’s a day that epitomizes why the restaurant business can be fun. Whether it’s just the fun of being in a busy place surrounded by happy people or if it’s the fun of getting through an ass-whooping with people that are making the best of it. It’s a shared experience of fun, so I won’t soon forget those moments. That’s what I toasted to tonight. The fun, the hard work, the running around and the laughs. It was quite a run but the party is over now. I’ve found better things to celebrate.

Next up: National Beverage Day 

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