The building that houses Chipotle Mexican Grill’s local headquarters in New York is not impressive. Aside from the scaffolding, the vestibule entrance is small and dim–you can’t really call it a lobby–with nominal security, no branding and two small, dingy elevators. But when the doors open on the third floor, there is warm, dark wood and glass dividers, creating a clean, airy feel. A small dog named Jack is running around unattended. You certainly feel like you’ve arrived someplace distinctive.
CEO Steve Ells meets me in a conference room with double-paned windows that block out the street noise. Ells is wearing a short-sleeve polo shirt and short pants. Even though it’s August, the look is unexpected for the head of a dynamically successful restaurant chain valued at more than $21 billion. Then again, much of Chipotle’s success has been unexpected: taking on fast-food giants without pushing dollar-menus and drive-thrus, offering a slim range of meals at relatively high price points, and yet posting industry-leading sales growth. The stock price has more than doubled over the past two years.