Last week, Steve Ells, founder and CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, explained to Georgetown students and faculty how a simple vision and trusting his gut were the key ingredients to the success of his hit fast food chain. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Ells had his eyes set on starting his own high-end restaurant, but like many new entrepreneurs Ells lacked the funds to support his vision. In 1993, Ells left his position as a line cook at Stars Restaurant in San Francisco and opened the first Chipotle, an 850-square foot taquerìa in Denver. He hoped that the store would generate enough cash flow to initially fund his dream restaurant. However, the burrito chain was so successful right off the bat that Ells abandoned his initial plan and now focuses solely on expanding Chipotle’s brand.
Over the past 20 years, Ells has transformed the meaning of a typical fast food experience with his simple yet efficient business model. Today, Chipotle has over 1,500 locations, opening an average of four a week, in 44 states across the country, and has recently begun expanding internationally.
Ells attributes Chipotle’s success to his firm belief that customers notice food prepared with integrity. Reinvesting approximately 33% of its income back into high quality ingredients, Chipotle spends far more on its food than any of its competitors. Ells believes that just because Chipotle is fast doesn’t mean it has to provide a typical fast food experience. He said, “it’s the food that is the problem with fast food, not its speed.”
Ells is also proud of Chipotle’s commitment to maintaining an ethical approach to fast food culture. Chipotle has committed itself to providing “Food with Integrity.” For Ells this means serving food prepared with the best quality, sustainably raised ingredients. Chipotle sources all of its ingredients from farmers and providers that respect both the earth and their products. Ells said that in the near future all of Chipotle’s dairy products will come from pasture-raised cows and by the end of the year there will be no ingredients served in his restaurants grown with GMOs.
Clearly, Ells has found a way to turn the fast food stereotype upside down and still achieve immense success. Allowing the words “integrity,” “authenticity” and “transparency” to guide him, he has revolutionized fast food. Be sure to also check out Ells’ newest projects: ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen (in Bethesda, DC and Los Angeles) and Pizzeria Locale (in Denver and Boulder).
Check out ShopHouse in Georgetown!
Location: 2805 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007
Hours of Operation: 11am – 10pm