Hollywood could be in the future for lifelong Johnston resident Carson Kenny.
Kenny, 19, works as a grill cook at Chipotle on Atwood Avenue, and a simple request from his manager last year changed his life for the better. He was asked to make a short video for the company’s All Managers Conference, explaining in 20 seconds why he loves his store and what makes his job enjoyable.
“So I spent my whole break and 10 minutes just trying to make this perfect little video, and finally I make this 20-second clip of this serious-looking, stone-faced kid who’s presenting a mature image, and one of my patch leaders saw it and said, ‘That’s not the same Carson,’” Kenny said, with a laugh, during an interview at his store last week. “It was a good video. I think it was nice.”
The clip never aired at the conference, but it did earn him a chance to fly out to Los Angeles and film a spot for Chipotle’s behind-the-line national advertising campaign. His ad, which is currently airing everywhere from Warwick to Florida to California, features Kenny discussing his love for cooking while grilling up chicken. He was one of eight out of 65,000 nationwide employees to get selected.
It was quite the whirlwind for Kenny, who had never flown alone before, as he was whisked away to Los Angeles. He met some of the other Chipotle workers featured in the campaign, and dove into some delicious vegan nachos near the hotel.
They went to set early the next day, taking a shuttle bus before enjoying a breakfast that Kenny said was one of the best he’s ever had. The employees sat in the makeup chair, and before he knew it, Kenny was in front of the camera for his first take.
However, the crew then had an inquiry that left Kenny with an important decision to make.
“So I do my first filming and they said, ‘OK, you did good. Would you want to shave your beard?’ Out of all things to ask, is to shave my beard,” said Kenny, who now sports a full beard again. “I flew across the whole country to be here. I’m not going to say no. I’m in it to win it. You’ve got to do it. I’m glad I did.”
Filming lasted most of the next day, Kenny said, and he did a few different takes. The shoot wasn’t too intense, though, since he said it involved a lot of simply hanging out. Once the talent was released at around 8 p.m., they got to experience the city a little bit more before flying out the next day.
Then the ad started to air, and Kenny turned into a local celebrity.
He said he started to hear from former Johnston High School classmates, to whom he had not spoken in months, about the ad. He recalled the first occasion that one of them had reached out, as he was laying in bed after a late night of grilling and homework.
“I go on my phone, and I see one of my friends sent me something. It was a girl I hadn’t talked to in forever. I look at it and it’s just a commercial of me,” Kenny said. “That was the first time I saw it. I’m reading the comments underneath, I’m checking how many likes it got. Then I’m seeing it everywhere.”
The response that started to roll in confirmed as much. He said his mom freaks out every time the ad is on TV, and his grandmother has shown it to nearly everyone at work. A friend from high school reached out on Twitter the other day to tell him she saw the ad on Hulu.
Other friends in Atlanta and Florida also contacted him – and then there are the face-to-face interactions he has at work.
“My friends come in and it’s like [I’m] a celebrity,” Kenny said with a smile. “I’ll have friends come in with their friends and say, ‘You know he’s famous. He’s in the Chipotle commercial.’ Yesterday was the first time that a customer that I didn’t personally know brought up the commercial, and I said, ‘Yeah, cool. Thanks, man.’”
As for continuing his professional acting career, Kenny said his family encouraged him to get some headshots done. He said he would like to be in another national commercial, and his relatives think he has it.
For now, though, Kenny is dedicated to working alongside the co-workers he loves and the friendly, family environment they have cultivated at their store. Despite his newfound local fame, stardom takes a backseat to what Kenny hopes the commercial brings.
“I hope in the long run it brings more business to the store,” Kenny said. “We care about the store. There’s a lot of people that work here that we build close relationships with.”