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Chipotle Makes a Deal for Slow Food Phoenix

Yep, that's right. Chipotle is doing good for the community, again.

Last week it was a free showing of food industry documentary Food, Inc., and now it's putting on a fundraiser for none other than the food awareness movement's top dog, Slow Food USA.

Tomorrow night, from 6 to 8 p.m., customers can present a Slow Food Phoenix flyer (print it out here) at the register of the Chipotle on 44th St. and Thomas, and the chain will donate half of whatever you spend to the local chapter of the national organization, which works to educate people about their food sources. All proceeds will go directly to Slow Food Phoenix's "Time for Lunch" campaign, helping to get healthier foods into the lunchrooms of local schools.

Judging by the reaction to the last announcement we made about Chipotle sponsoring the film screening, some readers find fault with this. It's still a common belief that the chain is owned by McDonald's, which would contradict Chipotle's support of things like Food, Inc. and Slow Food Phoenix.

Readers cried foul, pointing out the irony, claiming it's subliminal messaging meant to fool the public and that what used to be "anti" is now just a part of the industry itself. One reader even mentioned this upcoming Chipotle-sponsored event.

"I do not go to fast food restaurants, and am a member of Slow Food and I am nothing short of disgusted," writes Anonymous.

Well, as it turns out, Chipotle, which was founded in Denver in 1993, existed on its own for five years before McDonald's came into the picture in 1998, according to local store marketing consultant Jennifer Robinson. McDonald's was a Chipotle investor until 2006, when McDonald's sold its shares.

"We chose them [as investors] because they were willing to loan us the money we needed without messing with our operations," Robinson says. "We were able to be our own entity."

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However, one Chow Bella commenter pointed out, "the only reason Chipotle is as big as it is (and still in business) is because of McD's one-time ownership."

The burger giant certainly did play a large role -- at least financially -- for Chipotle. In 2001, according to a 2006 article in the Rocky Mountain News, McDonald's bought a majority share in the company and seriously helped to fuel the company's monumental growth. McDonald's CEO Jim Skinner is quoted in a 2006 Reuters article as saying, "Since we made our initial investment in 1998, Chipotle has grown from 16 restaurants in the Denver area to a strong and popular restaurant concept with more than 500 locations throughout the U.S."

In any case, there are a few things you should know about the big burrito mecca. The company has had the same owner, Steve Ells (a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America), from the beginning, and serves largely sustainable foods. What does that mean? Well, there's a lot about it here, but the gist is this: naturally raised meats, organically grown beans, local produce and rBGH-free dairy.

Perhaps this is a case of the lesser of two evils, or perhaps it's an example of a classic dilemma between money and ethics, but one thing is clear: whatever money they do raise tomorrow will be put to good use.

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