NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On Monday, Shaka Burrito opened its doors to the public as the latest and most unique entry in a long line of New Brunswick burrito restaurants.
Settling into the ground floor of 120 Albany Street, Shaka features a menu inspired by the popular fare at global surfing hotspots like the Hawaiian islands and Batu Karas, Indonesia.
Though New Brunswick may seem like a tough town for a new burrito joint to succeed in, Shaka’s globally-inspired menu, eco-friendly practices, and prime location across from the train station certainly give it a fighter’s chance.
Opening day was a busy affair for the Shaka staff, who had a packed lunch hour and were moderately busy on the early end of dinner, when this reporter sat down for his first Hawaiian-style burrito, which did not disappoint.
The atmosphere was enhanced with calm music by the likes of Bob Marley and the many tanks filled with tropical fish.
Unlike Chipotle, which is popular enough and close enough to become one of Shaka’s main business contenders, the new restaurant features both pre-designed burritos and a “build-your-own” option.
Another key difference is that Shaka has a liquor license that once belonged to La Fontana Ristorante, an Italian restaurant that used to occupy Shaka’s current space.
The distinctive menu is also made in wholesome fashion, according to the management.
“Our beef is grass-fed, grass-finished from New Zealand,” Operating Director Michael Norris told New Brunswick Today, “and we use free range, all natural, hormone-free and antibiotic-free chicken.”
Devotion to using organic ingredients infuses not only the food menu, but the bar menu as well, through the use of all natural sugars, fruit powders for cocktails, and the option to order beers and liquors that are organic.
In fact, Shaka’s entire mode of operation is to be earth-conscious.
The restaurant interior is designed with sustainable materials such as bamboo and stainless steel, and it even has “eco-friendly fish reef tanks, where we use coral frags and live rock so that we’re not destroying the world in order to create the fish environments,” said Norris.
“All of our take-out packaging is either biodegradable or compostable,” he added.
Norris explained the new restaurant’s many theme nights, in which a different group of people get a discount almost every night: Mondays are restaurant industry nights, Tuesdays are public service nights, Wednesdays are Rutgers student nights, and Thursdays are date nights.
“And then on Sunday night we do what’s called Sunday supper, when we have a special pre-fixed menu which includes an entrée, a dessert, and a cocktail—that menu and those dishes are only made on Sunday night,” said Norris.
Shaka’s New Brunswick location will be the next to join New Brunswick’s fierce burrito joint competition.
Among the new restaurant’s chief competition are Chipotle, Cinco de Mayo on French Street, and several mom-and-pop Mexican restaurants throughout the entire city.
But recent years have seen the closure of several other burrito joints, including Tijuana Burrito and Southwest Burrito, both forced out of their locations on Easton Avenue, shortly after Qdoba Mexican Grill opened on George Street.
Qdoba closed in 2013, not long after Chipotle opened just across the street.
Having opened quietly to the public on Monday, Norris says he and his staff will “go through the next couple of weeks just running quietly until we get our system really locked down and tight, and then we’ll be announcing a big grand opening.”
Shaka has two other locations—one in Long Branch and the other in Manhattan.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.