You might say this company is spicing up the restaurant business. Chipotle Mexican Grill owns and operates about 1230 quick-casual eateries popular for their burritos and other Mexican food items. Customers can build a 1-1/4 pound burrito from a lineup that includes chicken, steak, barbecue or free-range pork, as well as beans, rice, guacamole, and various other veggies and salsas. The company claims that with extras, its menu offers more than 65,000 choices. Chipotle restaurants also serve tacos, chips and salsa, beer, and margaritas. Operating throughout the US, many of the eateries are found in and around urban retail areas. Chipotle also has two locations in Toronto, Canada and two in London, England.
Chipotle's affordable prices have allowed the chain to thrive amid the difficult economic conditions that have hampered the restaurant industry in recent years. The company has enjoyed rapid expansion, with plans to open more than 155 new locations in 2012 after adding about 145 new outlets in 2011.
The company also expects to open its second ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen location sometime this year. Chipotle launched its Asian fast-casual concept with a single location opening in Washington D.C. back in September 2011.
While very much a quick-service restaurant chain, Chipotle has successfully differentiated itself from other fast-food brands by focusing on its distinctive customer experience and food quality. Most of the restaurants feature a minimalist interior designed to appeal to the young adult segment, while the made-to-order system sets the brand apart from other fast-food chains.
The company also promotes the fact that it uses organically grown produce whenever possible and that the animal products are naturally raised and antibiotic free. Helping it maintain control over food quality, Chipotle does not rely on franchising to expand its chain, another point of distinction between it and rival Mexican fast-food chains such as Taco Bell (part of YUM! Brands) and Del Taco.
Chipotle helped pioneer the Fresh-Mex dining segment and leads such rivals as Qdoba (owned by burger chain Jack in the Box) and Baja Fresh Mexican Grill (operated by Fresh Enterprises). In the broader fast-casual market, the company competes with such leaders as Panera Bread and Panda Restaurant's Panda Express chain.
The company promoted Monty Moran to co-CEO in early 2009 to serve alongside Steve Ells, allowing the chairman and founder to focus more on Chipotle's marketing and consumer outreach, such as the company's participation in promoting the 2009 documentary film Food, Inc. Moran had been president and COO for almost four years before the promotion.
Ells trained at the Culinary Institute of America and was working in the kitchen of San Francisco's Stars restaurant when he decided to switch from gourmet food to burritos. His father loaned him the money to open his first store, and later invested $2 million in the growing operation. Chipotle had expanded to 14 locations when McDonald's acquired the business in 1998. After funding Chipotle's rapid expansion, the Golden Arches spun off a 35% stake in the business through an IPO in 2006 and later divested its remaining shares. – less