Interview: Matt Silverman of Chipotle Fan

For the 3/4 turn post, I interviewed Matt Silverman, who runs what has to be the premire fan-run food website, Chipotle Fan. If you ever need to know anything about Chipotle, or if you are ever interested in calories, he’s your guy. Without further ado, check out my terrible questioning. 

Aaron: Hey Matt, Aaron from WaCK here. How’s it going?

Matt: Hey, how’s it going?

Aaron: Good, thanks for a agreeing to do this. First off, want to tell me what made you start Chiptole Fan?

Matt: I was a senior in high school and I tried a Chipotle burrito for the first time. I was really awestruck by the awesome flavors, and i immediately became a fan. I started to wonder, with such a massive amount of food, how many calories could there be in this thing? I browsed their web site and they had no info, so I emailed them. They replied back with a PDF file that listed all of the individual ingredients, with their respective nutrition values. I realized how tedious it was to try different combinations of burritos and figure out their nutrition info, so I decided to make a web calculator to add up the ingredients for me. I posted the link to a few message boards and it soon started getting 300 visitors per day back in 2004. Fast forward to now, it receives around 6,000 visitors every day.

Aaron: wow, that’s crazy! Do you remember what that first magic burrito was?

Matt: Yeah, chicken burrito with cheese, guac, corn salsa, hot salsa, lettuce.

Aaron: Solid choices. You used to live in DC, did you have a regular chipotle location? They’ve really exploded across the area since those days.

Matt: Yup, my spot was 19th and M street. I would recruit friends to go with me at least once per week. It was only about 6 blocks from my freshman dorm.

Aaron: did they get to recognize you?

Matt: I would recognize some of the employees there, but I didn’t get recognized really.

Aaron: Tell me about the smaller burrito initiative.

Matt: I often get emails from people saying we should lobby for a smaller option. I oftentimes would eat there and wish I could have something a little smaller. Their official answer is: order the tacos, or order one or two tacos. It’s obviously not the same thing though.

Aaron: I didn’t even realize you could go less than three tacos.

Matt: Yes, you can buy them a la carte.

Aaron: Walk me through the building of a smaller burrito. Are we thinking a wrap size halfway between taco and burrito?

Matt: Well ideally it’d be a tortilla about 2/3 of the current size. And then they’d just scale down the toppings a little. But because they use the same size scoops for each item, I can see how operationally it would be difficult.

Aaron: Interesting. One thing I’ve noticed is that whatever you ask, the servers usually go with. I frequently get fajita veggies and beans on a burrito, for example. Did you ever order anything unique?

Matt: I started getting the quesadilla way before they were publicizing it. And while I never tried it, I have heard about getting double-decker “guacos”, which is where you take soft shell tacos, smear guac on them, then wrap them over a hard shell taco. Then put your toppings in I just coined the term ‘guaco’ on the fly.

Aaron: I will have to check that out, that sounds dynamite. And I’ll be sure to credit you on that.

I love the recipe section of your site; did those mostly come from one source? Have you taste-tested them all?

Matt: They come from all over. A lot of people have tried to copy-cat the recipes, and from what I’ve heard, some have come out really well. I personally have not tried all of them … yet.

Aaron: The corn salsa is my weakness; I’ll have to make that one. So how did the site grow from a nutrition site into a general repository of burrito wisdom?

Matt: Once the nutrition calculator page started picking up traffic, I decided I might as well provide more information than just the nutrition. I made the majority of the current site on a rainy Saturday afternoon in the summer of 2004.

Aaron: Any other inside tips on off-menu items, ala in-and-out burger?

Matt: The double decker is a pretty underground one. Chicken/beef quesadillas used to be a secret, but just about everyone knows about them now. By request, they will sometimes add some fresh cilantro to your burrito/tacos which really gives them a nice fresh flavor.

Aaron: Ooo, love cilantro.

Matt: They always have it sitting around for the rice prep, so you just have to ask!

Aaron: Phil had this idea that if you took a lady to chipotle, her order might tell you a lot about her personality. Any insights into burrito-centric psychology?

Matt: So you’re saying, if she gets a double order of beans, you should run for the hills?

Aaron: Haha. That might be my reaction. And barbacoa is kind of a daring order the first time

Matt: I think a girl who gets barbacoa on the first date is pretty bold. In a good way.

Aaron: And chicken is the most conservative.

Matt: To answer your question: I think it’s too complicated to tell anything meaningful. If you go on a date to chipotle and the girl gets the salad, she’s not fooling anyone. We both know she is drooling just thinking about your… burrito.

Aaron: Niiiice. Hit me with your favorite burrito combo.

Matt: Currently? My go-to is chicken (double meat), guac, cheese, a little sour cream, corn, lettuce.

Aaron: Solid choices. Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d really like to work in to the article?

Matt: I have never met Steve Ells, the founder of chipotle, but I’ve always wanted to.

Aaron: Well, that’s the dream.

Matt: That’s when I know I’ve made it as a true chipotle fan.

Aaron: What about the vegan option you blogged about? Have you tried it?

Matt: I have not yet tried it, and I’ve heard some mixed reviews.

Aaron: It looks strange, but they have such a good track record.

Matt: True, and I think vegans and vegetarians will undoubtedly appreciate it. But it’s not going to convert any meat eaters, that’s for sure.

Aaron: Yeah, the veggie option has always seemed a little thin to me. Although I appreciate the free guac. What else is going on with the site?

Matt: Well you can mention that i am starting a nutrition software company, and anyone interested in seeing some more calculators for other restaurants should sign up for our beta list at www.nutritionix.com. I’m living in NYC now, and I’m the CIO for Just Salad.

Aaron: So you have quite an interest in nutrition, huh?

Matt: Definitely. My bachelor’s at GW was business administrator master’s in Information Systems.

Aaron: Very cool. Well thanks for doing this, and good luck with Nutritionix!

Matt: Great, thanks Aaron!

Aaron: And via con burrito!

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