Chipotle’s Steve Ells: “I Didn’t Know What The Fast-Food Rules Were”

Chipotle's Steve Ells: "I Didn't Know What The Fast-Food Rules Were"

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.

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