As one of the most successful American restaurant chains of the last twenty years, Chipotle Mexican Grill has always thrived on the promise of being fresh, healthy, and an overall better alternative to say, McDonald’s or Taco Bell. The company’s mission statement calls for “Food With Integrity” and for the most part it’s worked well with the company growing to over 2,000 locations internationally. As Miami found out this past weekend with the free Cultivate Chipotle Festival, it turns out the folks behind the “fast casual” chain are also pretty adept putting on an event that rivals those people often pay hundreds of dollars for.
For the price of zero dollars, Cultivate provided festival attendees a variety of culinary, educational, and entertainment options on what was nothing less than a gorgeous South Florida day at Bayfront Park in Downtown Miami. There was plenty to eat, mostly Chipotle of course, but there were also several stands occupied by local dessert artisans including Panther Coffee. Additionally, in a merciful move to our taste buds, craft beers, many from Miami, were the norm instead of a niche product alternative to watered-down national domestics. Exhibits touted the positive efforts of Chipotle to, well, “cultivate” a system that does away with harmful GMOs and practices that are abusive to animals. On stages facing opposite from one another, guest chefs provided cooking demos one, while national touring acts got people dancing in the sunshine on the other.
It was, on the whole, an absolute success. Scores of families, couples, friends, and dogs populated the event, for what was a friendly and laid back affair.
That being said, it can’t be forgotten that this was essentially one giant advertisement. Chipotle had a rough 2015 that’s partially extended into this year. The New York Times published an article detailing how the average meal at Chipotle is just over 1,000 calories, despite all the natural ingredients. That was nowhere nearly as damning as the more than 500 cases of food poisoning across the country. Although the Cultivate festival began seven years ago, a marketing tool like this has never been more important to the company and from what we saw, it might just go a long way towards repairing their image.
For example, although the music was just one aspect of the fest, it was perhaps the biggest draw. Local kid LunchMoney Lewis opened the day to a modestly sized crowd, but he was no less enthused. Happy to be home from abroad, Lewis performed a number of fun jams including his hit “Bills.” In between songs he elevated everyone’s self-esteem by urging the crowd to raise their hands and shout “I’m great” and then, “I’m awesome!” It was an endearing pair of mantras that seemed to run as general themes throughout the day.
Even though a pair of bands had some sever technical issues, nothing brought the mood down of either the audience or the performers. Phases had a sound check that nearly busted everybody’s eardrums and Clean Bandit had to stop midway through their first song and altogether scrap their closer because of tech glitches. Regardless, both groups soldiered on, apologizing profusely, but never letting their spirits dampen.
Sam Feldt, a Dutch DJ, and headliners St. Lucia and Capital Cities drew the biggest crowds and had flawless sets. They provided the perfect dance vibes for a city known for its consistent ability to party hard.
Whether or not Cultivate can give Chipotle the boost in the arm it needs to raise their stocks remains to be seen. Surely, the only way confidence can truly be restored is by preventing any further health incidents. Either way, however the business side of things pan out, one thing is for sure, they know how to have a damn good time.