Chipotle Mexican Grill has had plenty of bad news over the last year and probably wants to see 2016 end as badly as an aging rock star. That stated, however, the Denver-based fast Mexican chain is announcing what they hope will be good news – founder Steve Ells will return to the sole CEO role after co-CEO Monty Moran stepped down, effective immediately.
A press release by Chipotle also outlined new plans for the company’s future after several bad headlines over the last year and a half. The chain had a bad E. coli outbreak which damaged the brand, then the company was embroiled in a negative social media episode, then a former employee sued because he was fired for allegedly not following along with an hours-shaving scandal that cost employees overtime pay.
The company has been trying to turn around its bad fortunes for a while now and it hopes Ells can lead the way. He has pledged to renew the focus on enhanced guest experiences, innovation, and he has expanded a commitment to make better food accessible to more people.
The board of directors at Chipotle announced Monday that they had named Ells sole CEO and will remain chairman of the board. Moran stepped down from his co-CEO and board seat and will retire from Chipotle in 2017.
“Steve founded Chipotle more than 23 years ago with a powerful vision to use great ingredients prepared skillfully by hand, but served very fast,” said Neil Flanzraich, lead director of Chipotle’s board. “This approach has proven to be a very successful formula, but as the company grew, operations became more complicated and less consistent. Given the ongoing challenges facing the company, the board felt strongly that it was best for Steve to resume leadership of the company going forward. This will ensure that his high standards for the guest experience and his unyielding commitment to the company’s mission are top priorities.”
Classically trained chef Ells started Chipotle in 1993 with a small loan from his father and the business has grown into one of the nation’s largest restaurant companies, with more than 2,200 locations in five countries. Ells served as chairman and CEO from 1993 until 2009 when he became co-CEO, a title he shared with Moran. The company went public in 2006. As chairman and CEO now, Ells will directly oversee restaurant operations, strategic initiatives and innovation projects at the company.
“Chipotle is based on a very simple idea: We start with great ingredients, prepare them using classic cooking techniques and serve them in a way that allows people to get exactly what they want,” said Ells in the release. “Even though it’s a simple idea, operations have become over-complicated. I’m very much looking forward to relentlessly focusing on ensuring an excellent guest experience, removing unnecessary complexity from our operations, championing innovation, and pursuing our mission of making better food accessible to more people.”
Ells also indicated that he will pursue employee incentives that are more closely tied to the guest experience. Chipotle now pays its starting employees above the federal minimum wage and provides benefits, including paid vacation time, paid sick leave, and tuition reimbursement to all employees. The company also provides stock to its general managers upon achieving Restaurateur status – a plan that recognizes the company’s elite restaurant managers and provides a pipeline for its future leaders.
“It’s incredibly important to me that we create an excellent dining experience in all of our restaurants. That starts with having great restaurant teams. To that end, I will evolve our Restaurateur program to ensure that even more of our best employees succeed and thrive at the company,” Ells said. “While our plans will take some time to implement, we will act with a sense of urgency toward all of the changes we are pursuing.”
Ells also announced a new company mission, stating that Chipotle's aim to “ensure that better food, prepared from whole, unprocessed ingredients is accessible to everyone” is the next step in the company’s evolution.