A peek inside Chipotle’s official test kitchen

Chipotle’s Cultivate Center, in UCI Research Park, is home to its official test kitchen.

To step inside Chipotle’s new test kitchen at UCI Research Park, you first pass under a 15-foot sign – from the original Chipotle that opened in Denver in 1993.

“There’s so much nostalgia attached to this sign,” says Chipotle Chief Development Officer Tabassum Zalotrawala. “It’s the foundation of all we’ve become.”

In 28 years, Chipotle has grown from a single restaurant hoping to sell 107 burritos a day to 2,700 restaurants employing more than 94,000 people.

It’s credited with launching the multi-billion-dollar fast-casual industry.

It recently went all-in for Irvine, opening the 22,000-square-foot Cultivate Center at UCI Research Park.

“This has been a huge boost for everyone at the company,” Zalotrawala says. “Folks are excited to have this space.”

Building a better burrito

The Cultivate Center houses Chipotle’s official test kitchen, where a culinary team is already dreaming up new menu items. Cameras have been installed over all the cooking equipment so the center can run live demonstrations to field operators for training.

“This is a best-in-class space that will allow us to push the boundaries of innovation,” Zalotrawala says.

There is even a room where the chefs can serve up their culinary creations to focus groups for feedback.

Secrets and brisket

Also in the new center: a production studio for the marketing team to film commercials and create digital content and a development lab equipped with metal- and wood-cutting machinery to build new prototypes.

“We have a ton of things in the works,” Zalotrawala says. ”But I can’t divulge. Some things are secret.”

She will say, however, that they have just launched a new cauliflower rice and are tinkering with other plant-based menu items. A smoked brisket is also being tested.

Well positioned

UCI Research Park places Chipotle near its corporate headquarters in Newport Center and adjacent to UC Irvine, with a host of talent and resources.

The aesthetics also were alluring to the company. In addition to well-appointed rooms for board and investor meetings, the center features outdoor workspace, event space and even a basketball court.

Chipotle recently made national news, opening a prototype “digital kitchen” – exclusively for pickup and delivery – to keep pace with a tripling in year-over-year digital sales.

As the company continues to grow worldwide, all new menus, concepts and restaurant designs will start here in the Cultivate Center … under the original Chipotle sign from 1993.

Chipotle test kitchen sizzles at UCI Research Park

UCI Research Park connects innovative businesses – such as Cisco Systems, Facebook’s Ready at Dawn Studios and Toshiba America – with one of the nation’s top research universities. It has helped Irvine businesses land billions in venture capital funding and is gaining a reputation similar to Stanford Research Park. The 185-acre office campus is the result of a long-term relationship between Irvine Company and UC Irvine and is now home to more than 75 companies that employ nearly 8,000 people.