Chipotle has announced that founder and chief executive Steve Ells will step into the role of executive chairman once the burrito chain finds a new leader for the company.
According to Chipotle, a search committee is currently looking for a chief executive “with demonstrated turnaround expertise to help address the challenges facing the company, improve execution, build customer trust, and drive sales.”
The Denver-based company has struggled to rebound from its 2015 E. coli, salmonella and norovirus outbreaks that sickened hundreds of people around the country. In July of this year, another norovirus outbreak was reported at one Chipotle’s Virginia locations, resurfacing concerns about the company’s food safety.
Last quarter, comparable restaurant sales increased 1% from the year prior, falling short of Wall Street expectations. The battered chain is hoping a new chief executive will help reinvigorate the Chipotle brand and rebuild its reputation.
“Bringing in a new CEO is the right thing to do for all our stakeholders,” said Ells in a statement. “It will allow me to focus on my strengths, which include bringing innovation to the way we source and prepare our food. It will ultimately improve our ability to provide our guests with delicious food that is prepared with high quality ingredients that are raised responsibly and served in a way that is accessible to everyone. Chipotle has vast unrealized potential. As we work hard to restore our brand, I believe we can capitalize on opportunities, including in areas such as the digital experience, menu innovation, delivery, catering, and domestic and international expansion, to deliver significant growth.”
Earlier this year, Chipotle rolled out a TV campaign starring comedians including John Mulaney and Jillian Bell. Created by Venables Bell & Partners, the campaign aimed to illustrate Chipotle's "commitment to using only real ingredients."