Several Chaplin School students got a taste of the real world this semester. Students in Dr. Michael Cheng and Professor Joel Feigenheimer’s restaurant development classes took part in The Chipotle Mexican Group Sustainability Challenge.

The project was designed to investigate sustainable beverage options around eight topic areas: locally sourced, organic, sugar/high fructose corn syrup, fountain soda, non-GMO, recyclability, energy-efficient equipment, and selling water in restaurants.

Students presented to a panel of four executives from Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Senior Anabel Crespo used her experience working at a Mexican restaurant to her benefit while preparing for the project.

“I provided a simple, organic recipe that could be made in house with a low-food cost,” Crespo said. “I imagined this was how it felt to have a consulting gig. I genuinely enjoyed the experience and am considering going into consulting post graduation after taking part in this project.”

Sophomore Vivek Somani said his group prepped for the project by first evaluating some of the challenges Chipotle faced within its current beverage program.

“We proposed a regional craft beer purchasing initiative that would pair local breweries with nearby Chipotle restaurants in order to give the restaurant a ‘local’ appeal,” Somani said. “The process of searching, contacting, and meeting in person with a local craft beer brewery was really exciting. It felt very satisfying knowing that our class project involved real professionals in the industry.”

While most school projects involve case studies, the Chaplin School faculty put a strong focus on bringing real-world challenges into the classroom.

Dr. Cheng believes that these challenges are fundamental in ensuring the Chaplin School curriculum’s relevancy and student learning outcomes.

“The students were receptive and enjoyed the opportunity to research and present to a real client, as opposed to just case studies,” Dr. Cheng said. “I was impressed with the students’ creativity in finding alternative fountain soda options, as well as organic and non-GMO options.”

Throughout the semester, Dr. Cheng and Feigenheimer guided students along the way. During the research stage, students also had a chance to compile a list of questions directed to the Chipotle team.

“We gave some general directions on what was expected, but tried to push all decisions to the students,” Feignheimer said. “Each group had to build a mock presentation, which gave them a sense of what a true business presentation would entail.”

Somani is aware of what a project like this could do for his future.

“After presenting, I introduced myself to the Chipotle representatives and successfully received their contact information,” Somani said. “Since then, I’ve been personally invited to have lunch with Chipotle’s regional marketing strategist. I am very grateful for this and countless other career advancement opportunities the Chaplin School provides to students.”

Photo: FIU hospitality management students presenting during the Chipotle Mexican Group Sustainability Challenge.