Chipotle Reaches 1,000 Restaurant Milestone

DENVER  (  Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG), the national chain of burrito restaurants, opened its 1,000th restaurant today. The 1,000th restaurant, located in Flower Mound, Tex., is a milestone that, according to Chipotle founder, chairman and co-CEO Steve Ells, was never supposed to happen. Ells’ original plan for Chipotle called for only one restaurant.

Ells, a classically trained chef who studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, before beginning his culinary career at a fine dining restaurant in San Francisco, originally planned to pursue his dream of being a chef and owning his own restaurant. But the success of the first Chipotle gave rise to a new plan and has given Ells a bigger platform to influence how people eat.

“I wanted to have a ‘real’ restaurant, but I didn’t know enough about the business or the economics of running a restaurant,” explains Ells. “My plan was to use Chipotle as a cash cow to help me finance my own restaurant. It was a novel idea: I’d show that food that was fast didn’t have to be a typical fast-food experience. I used great quality ingredients and cooked everything in the restaurant using classical cooking techniques. People loved it so I opened another, and another, and so on.”

Since opening the first restaurant in 1993 and shifting his plan to build more Chipotle locations, Ells and Chipotle have achieved a number of restaurant industry firsts. Chipotle was the first national restaurant company to commit to serving naturally raised meat (from animals that are raised in a humane way, never given antibiotics or added hormone and fed a pure vegetarian diet), the first to commit to local and organically grown produce, and the first to serve dairy (cheese and sour cream) made with milk from cows that are not treated with the synthetic hormone rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). Ells calls the vision behind this commitment “Food with Integrity” and it has the company looking for more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients it uses.

“Our focus on making great tasting food with more sustainably raised ingredients available and affordable for everyone is one of the keys to our success,” says Ells. “These better quality ingredients allow us to make better tasting food, and that’s what keeps our customers coming back. While some of our customers don’t know the depths of our commitment to finding such great ingredients, the discipline to focus on making food this way has contributed significantly to our reaching the 1,000 restaurant milestone.”

Through this commitment, Chipotle serves more naturally raised meat than any other national restaurant company, including all of its pork, 85% of its beef, and about 80% of its chicken. In all, that amounts to more than 75 million pounds of naturally raised meat this year alone. In addition to getting meat from more sustainable sources, 40% of all of its beans are organically grown, and the company plans to use at least 50% of at least one produce item from local farms for all of its restaurants (some 5 million pounds of locally grown produce in all).

Recognizing that a great restaurant experience requires more than just great food, Chipotle has a unique internal people culture – a culture that appeals to and rewards its highest performers. Chipotle employees are now a driving force behind the growth to the 1,000 restaurant mark. This remarkable culture is impacting the lives of thousands of Chipotle employees, and improving customer service in its restaurants.

Today, more than 90% of Chipotle managers are promoted from within the ranks of its crew, creating excellent career opportunities for these top performers. Its totally unique Restaurateur Program, a program which rewards the elite managers who are best at developing crew members into future leaders, now has 168 Restaurateurs overseeing about one-third of its restaurants. These Restaurateurs are the foundation of Chipotle’s people culture, serving as an example to all of the company’s 24,000 employees, and helping to develop top performers into powerful leaders within the organization.

The Chipotle culture of high performing employees serving Food with Integrity is paying off with a special dining experience for every customer every day.

“Having a culture which attracts and retains top performers allows us to open restaurants with great teams, and the assurance that we are creating a special kind of experience,” said Monty Moran, co-CEO of Chipotle. “By developing our managers internally, we are not only getting the best managers, but we’re creating extraordinary opportunities for our own people. Today, as we open our 1,000th restaurant, we have a deeper bench of potential managers than ever before, which keeps us well positioned for growth knowing that our future leaders are already within the ranks of our managers and crews.”

Vision Prompts Praise

Chipotle’s unique vision has attracted praise from a variety of sources. New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser wrote that Chipotle is “a chance to witness – and taste – a shift in American fast food.” Newsweek called Ells “an environmental champion” for his commitment to using ingredients from more sustainable sources. Dana Cowin, editor of Food & Wine magazine says, “I love the fact that Chipotle sources all of its food products from trusted farms and famers, that the food is sustainable, and that the brand manages to bring really fresh food to a really wide public.” And in speaking with Ells about Chipotle’s vision and accomplishments for a segment on food issues on the “Oprah” show, Oprah Winfrey tells Ells, “We need more of you.”

Ells simple vision for the first Chipotle has evolved from what he originally planned, and the chain’s impact has become greater than he thought possible in the beginning.

“We are changing the way people think about and eat fast food,” said Ells. “Today, we have 1,000 restaurants and are serving some 750,000 people a day. Between our commitment to making great tasting food with ingredients from more sustainable sources, and a culture that rewards and empowers our people, Chipotle now has much more of an impact on how people eat than I ever would have had if I stuck to my initial plan.”

About Chipotle

Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO, started Chipotle with the idea that food served fast did not have to be a typical fast food experience. Today, Chipotle continues to offer a focused menu of burritos, tacos, burrito bowls (a burrito without the tortilla) and salads made from fresh, high-quality raw ingredients, prepared using classic cooking methods and served in a distinctive atmosphere. Through our vision of Food with Integrity, Chipotle is seeking better food not only from using fresh ingredients, but ingredients that are sustainably grown and naturally raised with respect for the animals, the land, and the farmers who produce the food. Chipotle opened its first restaurant in 1993 and currently operates 1,000 restaurants. For more information, visit