SubscribeAvailable Now
Rachel Wells (left) and Carmen Morales (right). Photo by Matt Nager

A Q&A With Denver’s Breakfast Burrito Bosses

Two women behind the Santiago’s Mexican Restaurant empire dish on green chile, charity, and Denver’s most delicious holiday.

|

Austinites love breakfast tacos, New Yorkers scarf down egg sandwiches, and Angelenos opt for avocado toast. Here in the Mile High City, however, the consummate morning meal is the humble breakfast burrito. And while countless Colorado eateries sling the beloved green-chile-and-egg-filled torpedoes, Santiago’s compact beauties are certainly the most ubiquitous.

Save the Date
When: October 13
What: The second annual Santiago’s Breakfast Burrito Day. Stop by any location for $1.25 burritos, priced as they were way back in 1991.

Advertisement

Since opening the original Brighton location in 1991, founder and operator Carmen Morales has grown the Santiago’s queendom to include 28 Centennial State outposts that collectively craft more than 700,000 gallons of the fast-casual eatery’s signature green chile every year. Even more impressive: Santiago’s has raised more than a million dollars for local charities, a remarkable feat for a restaurant where checks average less than $8. We sat down with Morales and one of her three daughters, Rachel Wells—owner of Santiago’s Fort Lupton location—to learn more about their family’s journey to breakfast burrito supremacy.

5280: Since Santiago’s began fundraising in 2003, you’ve donated more than $1 million to local child-focused charities. Why is philanthropy such a priority?
Rachel Wells: Our green chile was my grandma Rachel’s recipe; the giving really started with her. She would say, “There’s always someone who has less than you.” Last year we had close to 40 organizations that wanted to be the beneficiary of our campaign. This year, we chose There With Care, an organization that provides all-encompassing support for families dealing with a terminal illness.

How do you raise the money?
RW: From March 1 through August 1, we ask our customers for a dollar donation when they come in. We sell World’s Finest Chocolates for a dollar a bar, giving the proceeds to our charity. There’s also a silent auction on our website that anyone can go to, and we have posters up at all of the shops asking business owners for prizes and donations. Then we have a golf tournament in August.

Photo by Matt Nager

How did you come up with the name “Santiago’s”?
Carmen Morales: When we were deciding what to call the first restaurant, I thought about Carmen’s or Carmelita’s. But then I thought, We’re going to need all the help we can get. I’ll name it after Saint James!

Your green chile is what makes Santiago’s breakfast burritos stand out. Has the recipe changed at all over the years?
CM: Everything has stayed the same. When I started the restaurant, I was like, Everything has to be fresh! We’re steadfast on that. We peel our own potatoes, crack our own eggs, shred our own cheese.
RW: Our cooks get in at 2 a.m. every day. It takes a long time to make green chile.

Last October, you teamed up with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to make Santiago’s Breakfast Burrito Day an official holiday. What was that like?
RW: Last year was overwhelmingly successful—more successful than we thought. We ordered 30 percent more product than we normally do, and all of our stores ran out of everything by 10 a.m. We were literally meeting the drivers to grab more tortillas straight off the trucks.
CM: There was blocked traffic near our Federal [store]. It was crazy.

Advertisement

Spring Reading

Newsletter Signup

Keep me up to date on the latest trends and happenings around Denver. 5280 has a newsletter for everyone. Sign Up