[Photos 1-12: R. Lopez; Photos 13-14: Courtesy Chipotle]
Chipotle's new concept ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen opened this morning just slightly past 11 a.m. with one lone man camped out in front with a fold-up canvas chair. The strip of concrete right off the Dupont metro was quiet at 10:36 am, less than half an hour before the launch of the rice bowl and banh mi shop. The man explained that he felt compelled to arrive at 10 a.m., a full hour before ShopHouse would open for service, because it was "a beautiful day." And, as no surprise, he's a big fan of Chipotle. Although he was surprised to be the only one waiting: "There's always some crazy guy."
Asian bowls must not attain the same carnal appeal as burger joints, because compared to the Shake Shack opening earlier this year, ShopHouse must feel like Newt Gingrich in popularity. At 11:04 a.m., the doors opened and only two more customers walked in with the original camper. That is not, however, including the many reporters stalking the scene. In fact, for the first thirty minutes, reporters, photographers, videographers, and Chipotle representatives rivaled the number of paying customers. But plenty of downtown workers filed in around noon, creating a line stretching about 20 people deep. Although a heavily staffed team worked behind the counter, scooping food into bowls and ringing up customers, a bottle-neck of diners surrounded the register.
The tight menu reflects a streamlined approach, yet is varied enough for future unique orders. The assembly line ordering system will feel familiar: pick a bowl of rice or noodles, or a sandwich, and choose a protein (chicken satay, pork and chicken meatballs, grilled steak or tofu), vegetable (Chinese broccoli, eggplant, long bean or corn), sauce, garnish and topping.
Long and narrow, the empty walls shine in bright white paint, hardly mimicking the barrage of old-timey photos hung on sister-restaurant, Chipotle's walls. The only decoration: a single shelf of unopened Sriracha bottles.