ShopHouse’s Fresh Fast Food Intrepreneur
The Georgetowner sat down with Chipotle’s concept development director Tim Wildin during the first few minutes of its Aug. 19 grand opening of ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen at 2508 M St., NW. ShopHouse is Chipotle’s East Asian concept, developed by Wilden and Chipotle founder and CEO Steve Ells.
How did you get started in the restaurant business?
As a busboy, when I was 16. So, I’ve worked in a restaurant all my life. A waiter in high school, and in college I was bartending. I went to NYU. So, I definitely relied on those tips to get through college. I started working on the corporate side doing a lot of PR and marketing. A position opened up with Chipotle. So, I jumped ship and started working there in 2009. It was so cool. I went from doing something that was boutique and luxury to doing something much more mass, but with integrity and a great mission to take great family-raised food and give it to a lot of people — that really excited me. My background isn’t culinary. I’ve never been a chef, just a really enthusiastic home cook.
ShopHouse is Chipotle’s East Asian concept. How was the idea developed?
Steve Ells had the idea to take Chipotle’s model and drop other cuisines into it. He talked for a long time about Chipotle’s success and how it wasn’t about burritos and tacos, but much more. It’s about taking great, fresh ingredients and cooking them right in front of people — in very little time. For me, it was my background. My mom is Thai. I’m originally from there and would spend every summer back there. It’s the food I love eating, and Steve loves the food. We cooked a couple times together, and I took him to Bangkok to show him the food culture. We spent two weeks eating and gaining weight and by the end had the basic idea of ShopHouse nailed down. We worked on it for about a year and opened in Dupont Circle a year and a half ago. Chipotle is a big company, but this idea wasn’t born out of a boardroom or a survey of what’s the next big flavor trend. It was born out of a love of the food and looking to another culture to be inspired by their “fast food.”. The on-the-go options (in America) are generally pretty bad for you. We wanted to do something really different.
Food sourcing is something you’re doing different. What’s your idea behind it?
Luckily, we have the expertise of Chipotle in terms of working along our supply chain to see what’s out there. We work with a keen eye towards sustainability. We use meats raised without antibiotics and without additive hormones. The ethos of sourcing for ShopHouse is exactly the same as Chipotle. We have such high standards and strict protocol to what we buy that it makes it tough for farmers to only sell part of the animal. When we set this up we decided not to use the same cuts as Chipotle to try and make that market for farmers. Something really great is that our tofu is organic, unlike most soybeans in America. Ours is the highest quality tofu you can get, from Hodo Soy in Oakland, Calif. The quest for that tofu was really interesting. For four months, I was eating more tofu than you should ever consume in your life. All of our fresh produce, cabbage, green beans, broccoli, eggplant, are bought locally. Obviously, that’s not possible all year, but we buy it locally when we can. We’re also looking to switch out vegetables seasonally.
Why D.C.? Why Georgetown?
I live in New York. Nate [Appleman, Chipotle’s culinary director,] who started this with me lives in New York. But the start-up costs for a restaurant there are so high. I can come to D.C. easily and often. Also, D.C. is a great market because it has a great food culture. We’re having a lot of great restaurants opening up here — to be a part of an emerging dinning scene is really cool. D.C. is a great market for Chipotle. It’s a very dense market. The demographics are right. People are busy. So, they need something on the go, but they want something great. It was a good proving ground for our first couple of stores. Dupont is doing really well. We’re seeing regular customers over and over again, which is what success looks like to me. It’s just spreading — by word of mouth.Georgetown is a great neighborhood. Other than Chipotle, I don’t know of another quick service meal where you can go in and pay $6 or $7 for really great food that’s really cooked. We were supposed to open months ago, but there were a number of construction delays.
What food trend do you see in the future?
In creating this, people often tell me that we had a really innovative concept. This style of food is actually really traditional. We were inspired by something that already exists, but in a different part of the world. But as a trend, people are more adventurous and that could be translated into all kinds of things. My focus is ShopHouse. So, I will be building ShopHouse, but Americans are eating spicier foods. They’re eating more vegetables and less meat. Most of all, I hope people are starting to care more about where their food comes from, and that’s driving their dining options.
Chipotle has nearly 1,500 locations. Where does ShopHouse go from here?
ShopHouse is one-by-one. People are speculating that it’s going to roll out everywhere, but you can’t do that. You have to build it slowly to develop a great set of employees. The focus right now is in D.C. We opened in Hollywood about seven weeks ago, and we will be opening one in Santa Monica. We chose L.A. because we were opportunistic with real estate and we thought people in California would really appreciate this kind of food.
If you could open any restaurant anywhere in the world, what would it be and where?
It sounds crazy, but ShopHouse is really my deal. I feel like it’s my baby. To be able to do this is more inspiring to me as an “intrepreneur,” from inside Chipotle, than opening fine dining. I come from years of fine dining — this is where it’s at for me. I get to work with great people and everything is honest about it. Most fast food restaurants don’t have knifes and cutting boards or raw vegetables. To be able to do this and offer it accessibly is really cool. I want to create little spots in city neighborhoods and have them be a relevant part of the community.