What in the world is a Chipotle festival?

It seemed to come out of nowhere — DART buses and billboards advertising a festival called “Cultivate,” sponsored by Chipotle. Since when does a fast-casual burrito restaurant host festivals?

Since 2011, actually, when the festival premiered in Chicago. In 2012 Cultivate expanded to Denver, where Chipotle is based, and by 2013 to San Fransisco. This year Minneapolis and Dallas-Fort Worth replaced Chicago and Denver in the festival line-up, as Chipotle tries to market its brand to other cities where it has a strong presence.

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“Experiential marketing” is the premise of the festival, explains Chipotle spokeswoman Danielle Winslow. Cultivate has built a reputation for attracting renowned chefs and an impressive music line-up, both of which are a great lure to attend the festival and learn about Chipotle’s practices. The Cultivate exhibits center on such topics as “factory vs. farm,” “fresh vs. processed” and “GMO experience.” Chipotle prides itself on serving “food with integrity,” and the company can showcase this better through a festival than it can on a billboard. Videos work well, too, as Chipotle has learned (remember The Scarecrow?), and one of the exhibits is a cinema. The final exhibit teaches how to make Chipotle’s guacamole from scratch. Visiting four exhibits earns you a free Chipotle meal, which almost guarantees that the tens of thousands of expected attendees will be much more educated about Chipotle by the time they leave.

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Plenty of Chipotle fare will be available for purchase, too, along with food and drinks from local vendors, many of them discovered as company representatives scoured Dallas farmers markets. (Admission and entertainment is free; food and drinks are $5 and up.) Our neighborhood’s Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters and Bishop Cider Co. are among the featured local vendors, and Omar Flores of Oak Cliff’s Driftwood is one of six illustrious chefs Chipotle tapped to participate. His demonstration begins at 12:20 p.m.

Chipotle anticipates that this Saturday, Oct. 18, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., droves of people will descend on Irving’s Lake Carolyn to “eat great food and think about making the world a better place,” as the above promotional video states, as well as “know where their food comes from.” No doubt it’s an expensive marketing strategy, but the company is banking on the fact that if it educates the masses, more people will eat local — and, thereby, eat Chipotle.

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