After founding the first Chipotle restaurant in 1993, Steve Ells will leave his position as CEO and become executive chairman. Chipotle locations have struggled with food safety issues since 2008, when customers at a La Mesa, California, restaurant came down with hepatitus, and 54 Kent State students were affected by norovirus at a local restaurant. Since then, other locations have been affected by these illnesses as well as Salmonella and E. Coli.
Company stock has suffered, and this move signals a hopeful change. It's a tough spot for the company's board because Ells has been the face of Chipotle for so long, but the situation has not improved despite efforts for better food safety and new menu items, such as queso dip, which was not well received.
In a company press release, Ells is quoted:
“I am incredibly proud of Chipotle and our people – and grateful to our loyal customers – and while we are continuing to make progress, it is clear that we need to move faster to make improvements,” said Ells. “Simply put, we need to execute better to ensure our future success. The Board and I are committed to bringing in an experienced leader with a passion for driving excellence across every aspect of our business, including the customer experience, operations, marketing, technology, food safety, and training.”
Added Ells, “Bringing in a new CEO is the right thing to do for all our stakeholders. 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. I am confident that this will allow us to deliver value for our shareholders, and provide rewarding opportunities for our employees. 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.”
The board chair is also quoted, speaking highly of Ells:
“Steve is a visionary leader and one of the most successful restaurateurs in history, having grown Chipotle from a single restaurant in Colorado to more than 2,350 restaurants today. Steve made the decision, and the Board agreed, that now is the right time to identify a new CEO who can reinvigorate the brand and help the company achieve its potential. We are committed to recruiting a world-class CEO for this incredible opportunity.”
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