A well-intentioned burrito chain from Australia makes its first appearance in the United States this week with the grand opening of two locations in the Northeast. Zambrero officially opens Tuesday, March 20, in both Cambridge, Massachusetts (71 Mount Auburn St.), and Warwick, Rhode Island (1000 Bald Hill Rd.), bringing to both locations fast-casual burritos and bowls and a mission to provide as many meals as possible to those in need.
Founded in 2005, Zambrero has taken to heart its creator’s philosophy: Dr. Sam Prince vowed to brand the company as a mission-based restaurant. Zambrero’s Plate 4 Plate program involves a partnership with the international hunger relief non-profit organization Rise Against Hunger, and for every burrito or bowl sold in a Zambrero restaurant, one meal gets donated. The running count over the last 13 years Zambrero has been in business has surpassed 20 million meals donated, and the total target for 2025 is an ambitious one billion meals.
But Zambrero stands poised to reach it, as the brand expands across the world. Its Cambridge and Warwick restaurants are the first for the United States, with more in the works.
“We have an active ticker in our restaurants — a constant number that’s rolling — and now that we’re operating in different corners of the world, we’re seeing that number rolling all the time,” said Steve Anderson, Zambrero’s US operations manager.
Zambrero operates three models for its restaurants: standalone, kiosk, and drive-thru versions. While the Warwick restaurant is a drive-thru, the Cambridge restaurant stands alone, in the former Boloco space on Mount Auburn Street. Both locations serve Zambrero’s signature menu of burritos and burrito bowls, featuring its own sauce line.
“It’s a readable menu,” Anderson said, and it will evolve over time, while at its core remaining customizable in the way of fast-casual, quick service restaurants. “There is some education that will have to happen with some unique menu items,” Anderson said, including Zambrero’s sous vide method of slow-cooking meats and its jasmine and black rice options.
“In its raw, uncooked state, it is black in color. It’s this popping, shiny black rice,” Anderson said. “It’s interesting to eat because it’s got a different texture — it’s somewhat al dente, but it gives really good texture to a soft meat, to vegetables, and to the sauce line.”
Black rice is more commonly seen in Asia and has been around for thousands of years. Zambrero’s version is flavored with spirulina and amaranth seeds, and it’s available in burritos and bowls. As for the sous vide meats, those are vacuum-sealed and slow-cooked in a water bath.
“We have a proprietary piece of machinery called Esmerelda,” Anderson said, which is the name Zambrero has given its sous vide tank. As for the meats, they come out “super tender and very juicy and moist and maintain a lot of their natural flavors,” he said.
Right now, Zambrero serves beef, chicken, and pork, along with seven sauces. Zambrero also serves nachos, double-wrapped tacos (because if you’re going to eat a hard taco, it might as well be wrapped in a soft one), and quesadillas. The menu has accommodations for vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free diners as well, Anderson said, so there are plenty of options for customization, choosing healthy meals with local ingredients, or getting a calorie-packed meal with extra toppings.
Zambrero is the largest Mexican franchise in Australia, with more than 170 restaurants within the country and abroad. With its expansion to the US, Zambrero gains an upper hand in meeting its humanitarian goal of providing at least one billion meals by 2025.
“The bigger footprint you have in the world, the more exposure the issue gets and the more help we have to fix it,” Anderson said.
Cambridge’s restaurant displays a meal ticker, along with a neon sign inviting people to eat and beat world hunger. To celebrate Zambrero’s arrival in the US, both the Cambridge and Warwick locations are serving 1,000 free burritos on opening day.
• Zambrero Coverage on Eater [EBOS]