Where did Chipotle come from?
If you don’t know Chipotle’s origin story by now, allow me to give you a quick tour of the house. Steve Ells goes to University of Colorado-Boulder for college, starts making fancy meals for friends, decides he loves to cook, goes to the Culinary Institute of America, moves to SF, works as a sous chef at Stars for legendary chef and famous person Jeremiah Tower, and becomes obsessed with SF’s particular “Mission” style of burritos. He goes back to Colorado, decides he wants to open an SF-styled burrito joint, names it after the chipotle pepper, and opens up in Denver in 1993. Ells keeps the assembly line process silly simple so he can also focus on opening a fine-dining restaurant. But Chipotle is a phenomenon with 13 successful stores, and can’t grow fast enough. Ells ditches fine dining and goes out raise money so they can grow. In 1998, he finds that money. McDonalds invests $50 million.
Chipotle gets money, distribution, supply lines, etc. But they also get calls of selling out. The investment allows Chipotle to grow from 13 restaurants to 500, but ultimately proves complicated, and McDonalds divests and the company IPOs in 2006. Chipotle goes international in 2008, opening in Canada, then throughout Europe. It tries to open a Southeast Asian spinoff called ShopHouse, but that fails. It experiments with a few other spinoff concepts as well (remember Tasty Made?!?) and things are fine, and then in 2015, a bunch of different food-safety issues kick off the Chipotle Apocalypse, the peak of which culminates in February 2016 when every store closed for meetings on food safety. 2017 seems fine until a norovirus outbreak once again puts food-borne illnesses in the spotlight, and finally the restaurant decides to make a change, replacing founder Steve Ells as CEO with former Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol in 2018. The irony of the anti-Taco Bell replacing its chef founder with the man in charge of the Doritos Locos Taco is not lost on the critic class, but the company needs a turnaround artist, and Niccol is certainly experienced at that.
OK, phew, now we’re all caught up.