When Chipotle announced they’d be adding queso to the menu, many people were thrilled.
The reason is simple: queso is traditionally a delicious cheese product, and we as a nation traditionally love delicious cheese products. It should have been a slam dunk. (Or, in this case, a slam “dip”. Sorry, that was really dumb.)
And yet, when it made its debut, queso was widely panned for being, well, shitty and gritty.
Which is hilarious, because of articles like that one from CNN Money, which called the queso choice “Chipotle’s comeback plan”:
The company hopes the savory new menu addition will help it regain customers after ongoing food safety controversies.
“We’ll be rolling out queso to more than 350 restaurants across markets within Central and Southern California and Colorado beginning on August 1,” Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle’s chief marketing officer, said. The chain will see how customers respond, and decide from there whether to roll it out nationally.
Crumpacker said Chipotle is already testing the new dish at a restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village area.
The fast-casual chain has been grappling to rebuild customer trust and improve sales as it continues to struggle with food safety issues.
Things…did not go well.
Me: Giving your customers E. Coli is about as bad as it gets.
Chipotle: Hold my beer. #chipotlequeso
— Nic Fowler (@Nic_Fowler_) September 13, 2017
Here’s something kind of fun: in late July/early August, I took a trip to Orange County. My girlfriend’s family lives there, so it’s a nice travel destination perk. While there, I went to Chipotle, because I am the furthest you can get from a food person. My favorite restaurant in the world is Five Guys, and I don’t mind Chipotle at all. I actually tend to like it, and when I lived in Denver and there was a Chipotle two blocks from my apartment building (and right next to the light rail stop I used every night to get home) I was a frequent traveler to Chiptopia.
So when I needed some lunch in Orange County, I decided to stop by Chipotle, because it was close and I knew it’d be solid. (There was also a Del Taco I had later in the trip, and it was also solid.) And it was! Except instead of my usual salsa order, I noticed the new queso on the menu. I made the rare call to break my routine, because I too enjoy delicious cheese products, and have in fact enjoyed various quesos in various establishments.
It was bad.
Every complaint you heard upon the national rollout was present in that very queso in August. It was gritty, gummy, and had a weirdly off flavor. We didn’t come close to finishing it, and I had no desire to.
The nation agreed; according to this Business Insider piece, the queso has not caught on at all:
The chain faced backlash soon after debuting the queso, with customers calling the dip a “crime against cheese,” “expired Velveeta,” and “dumpster juice.” The company confirmed that just 15% of orders include queso — less than half of the 40% that include guacamole. And, Cowen found that queso-related traffic died off after peaking the first week it was available.
That’s disastrous, and as you might guess, Chipotle is trying to salvage the product, which Business Insider tested firsthand at an NYC test kitchen:
While Business Insider taste testers found Chipotle’s original queso recipe to be too grainy to be enjoyed with chips, the queso we ordered on Wednesday was substantially less grainy. Even after it had been sitting out, it retained the proper texture of a dip instead of degrading into a sort of bizarre chowder.
The flavors were slightly different as well — still a little smoky, but more of an even, overall heat.
Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold confirmed that the chain had “tweaked” its queso recipe.
“Same commitment to ingredients (still all real ingredients with nothing artificial), but it’s got a creamier texture and a really nice flavor,” Arnold said in an email to Business Insider.
And not only is Chipotle looking to refine their queso, they’re also looking to add a menu item that’s apparently been an option for a while now: nachos.
Improved queso is necessary if Chipotle wants to roll out its new nachos to a wider audience.
Nachos have long been an unofficial Chipotle secret menu item. Last week, Chipotle added nachos to the menu in its Manhattan test kitchen, for $4.80. Chips are covered with queso and whatever else customers would typically get on a burrito or bowl (minus rice).
Chipotle is really leaning into that high-end Taco Bell label by just taking the existing ingredients and combining them in new ways, aren’t they?
Then again, as we saw with queso, new ingredients don’t seem to be a forte. Oh, and hey, yesterday we learned their company founder/CEO is stepping down! Surely this isn’t just an attempt to distract the country from corporate disaster with delicious nachos and cheese!