A Chain Reaction: Chipotle Coming to The Circle

Students will drive miles to get to a burrito. Two Chapman University students stand looking at the nearest Chipotle to campus. Photo by Cartwright.

Chapman University junior Madison Hill often finds herself wondering where her hard-earned money seems to disappear. Higher gas prices and monthly rent would be the typical culprit for a broke college student, but Hill’s bank account is about to face its biggest threat yet: a Chipotle is opening in the Orange Circle. Only a two minute walk from her front door. 

“This is going to be really bad for my wallet,” Hill said.

While her heart says yes, her bank account says “Oh no.” A new fast food chain is coming to Old Towne Orange.

Chapman junior Anna Frala. Photo from Frala’s Instagram.

While many college students might have a similar outlook on something familiar and delicious being built so close to campus, not everyone is ready to pay extra for guac. Local businesses and students question whether it’s a good idea for an international chain to open in Old Towne Orange.

A place that has been a longtime haven for small businesses in Orange.

The new Chipotle is scheduled to open sometime in late May or early June on East Maple Ave. This will make it one of the first businesses students will see on their way to the Orange Circle. 

But not everyone is thrilled about the fresh face in town.

“Don’t touch the Circle,” Chapman junior Anna Frala said. 

Frala grew up locally and has visited the Orange Circle all her life. When she started attending Chapman, she grew to love its charm. 

She remembered when Urth Caffe was introduced. It was the first chain restaurant and it felt weird then, she said.

Inside the Chipotle on Main Street in Santa Ana. The location is about a seven minute drive away and one of the closest to campus. Photo by Cartwright.

Urth Caffe only has 10 locations total. 

Now Chipotle?

There are almost 3,000 Chipotles in America alone. 

“I don’t want to say I’m scared by it…but it’s kind of like when they open those doors, they’re going to kick out a lot more smaller businesses to get more chains in [the Orange Circle],” Frala said. 

She has grown to love the vibe of the Orange Circle since becoming a student. But she fears losing local businesses could have an effect on the feeling of community.

Some local businesses share this fear with Frala. A manager at the Pie Hole, which will soon be next door neighbors with the new Chipotle, said its construction has already made them lose some business. 

However, Chipotle’s opening is most threatening to the local Mexican restaurants.

Don Jefe Jalapeños Grill on Glassell St in Orange CA. Photo by Kelly B.

“I don’t know what will be the effect, but I’m sure it’s going to hurt us,” said Armia Medali, the owner of Don Jefe Jalapeños Grill, one of the few quick-service Mexican restaurants in the Orange Circle.

Medali’s restaurant employs 15 different families and was able to keep everyone hired during the pandemic despite the temporary closure. Medali takes pride in the fact that he never had to let go of anyone, he said, and serves fresh ingredients to all of his customers. 

But Chipotle’s opening is looming on the horizon. Don Jefe could face the fate befalling so many other locally owned businesses in recent years: closing down for good.

The space Chipotle is soon to occupy used to be home to local coffee shop The Aussie Bean, which now has multiple locations but got its start in the Orange Circle. The business closed in August 2020 and the space has sat unused until now. 

While the presence of a Chipotle might be noticeable to most, El Ranchitos, another Mexican restaurant in Old Towne Orange, hadn’t even heard of its upcoming arrival. 

But the news of its construction didn’t bother manager Gabriela Plaslencia. She doesn’t think it’ll affect their business at all. El Ranchitos is a sit-down restaurant with regulars that come in three to four times a week. She said the feeling of their restaurant is completely different compared to Chipotle’s and even said its opening could be good for students who are headed to the Orange Circle for a quick break. 

Public notice regarding alcohol license in the window of the Chipotle opening in the Orange Circle. It announced Chipotle’s arrival on its posted date, Jan 19 2022. Photo by Cartwright.

The sign announcing the Chipotle has been in the window of the construction zone since Jan 19.

The new chain is expected to open sometime this year. 

But will its opening start a “chain” reaction? Maybe not.

The biggest chain in the Orange Circle right now is Starbucks, but you’ll constantly find local coffee shops filled with students. 

Architects of Orange and the city itself are working hard to make sure Chipotle has the Old Towne look by the end of its construction. But will brick walls and hardwood floors be enough to keep the Orange Circle feeling like home? 

Will burnt-out students opt for the quick familiar option, or go further and get their meals from the local stores that have become their favorite over the years?

Frala, the Orange native, only has one year left at Chapman but she hopes that students who come in the future get to experience the Orange Circle in the same way she did.

“I think you’re going to have two sides to it,” Frala said. “The people who hate it and the people who love it….There’s nothing wrong with Chipotle, I just don’t think this is the place for them to get business.”

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Natalie Cartwright is a film production major with an emphasis in editing and a minor in visual journalism. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies and going to Trader Joe's.