Steve Ells was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1965 and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, in 1990. He subsequently moved to San Francisco and got a job working as a sous-chef at Stars in San Francisco. While there, he decided he wanted to open his fine-dining restaurant. But knowing the restaurant business was tricky, he decided on another venture first, thinking that this could eventually fund the restaurant of his dreams.
He knew he enjoyed eating at burrito shops and taquerias in San Francisco and knew that there was nothing of the sort in Colorado. So in July 1993, armed with an $80,000 loan from his father and with no real business plan to speak of, Ells remodeled an old ice cream store near the University of Denver campus. There was no menu, no recipes, and he only had two prep cooks helping him. He had worked out with his father that to break even; he would have to sell 114 burritos a day. His first day in business, he made a couple of hundred dollars. The second day, sales doubled. In a month, he was selling 1000 burritos a day, and soon, he was so successful that he was able to repay his father’s loan. With demand growing every day, he opened a second restaurant a year and a half later. This location was particularly interesting because it had been a House of Pies before, and featured a linear display which was later adopted in all the Chipotle restaurants. As it turned out, this was a significant factor behind their success and productivity.
Steve deliberately made the whole operation easy to follow because he didn’t want to spend too much time working at Chipotle. He still wanted to focus on opening his dream, a fine dining restaurant. But the second location was soon followed by a third, and by 1998, the chain had grown to 13 restaurants.
Around this time, Steve began looking for investors to keep expanding, and a friend of his referred him to McDonald’s. He attended a McDonald’s board meeting, where he served the board members burritos and tacos. They were so impressed that McDonald’s went on to invest $360 million into the company. By 2001, they were the majority shareholder and had helped the chain grow from just 13 restaurants to only under 500 locations in 21 states. In 2006 however, right before the initial public offering (during which it’s stock price went up 100% on the first day), McDonald’s fully divested from Chipotle.
Over the next ten years, the restaurant kept growing. It became focused on faster service and distinguishing itself from other fast-food style restaurants by offering locally sourced ingredients, organic produce, non-GMO offerings. Also, they ensure that food is pesticide and preservative-free, and free of artificial colors and flavors.
In late 2015, a string of E-coli outbreaks at several Chipotle restaurants precipitated an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and resulted in a significant drop in stock price. After this incident, the chain took several precautions to ensure food safety, including changing food preparation procedures and replacing ingredients in the affected locations.
By 2017, Chipotle had more than 2400 locations in operation. Despite the numbers, the company surprisingly does not franchise its business, preferring to retain full control of its restaurants to drive employee culture better and maintain its commitment to sustainability. They also do not serve breakfast and do not have drive-thrus.
In 2017, Steve Ells announced he would be stepping down as longtime CEO of but staying on as chairman.
General Restaurant Information
Food Type: Mexican
Restaurant Type: Fast Casual
U.S. Locations: 2,198
States: 48 states, Chipotle Locations
Company Slogan: Food with integrity
Charity Focus: Hunger
Contact & Ownership
Questions: Contact Information
Phone number: 303-595-4000
Email: Contact Form Only
Blog: Chipotle Blog
FAQ Page: Chipotle Frequently Asked Questions
Who Owns Chipotle? Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc
Headquartered: Denver, CO
Employment: Chipotle Employment Page
The History of Chipotle
Original Location: 1644 East Evans Avenue, Denver, CO
Founded: July 23, 1993
Founded By: Steve Ells
Name Origin: The name Chipotle comes from the Mexican (Nahuat) name for a smoked, dried, jalapeno chili pepper (thebalancesmb.com)
History Page: Chipotle History Page
Current View of Original Location: 1644 East Evans Avenue (link may not work on mobile devices without Google Maps)
Steve Ells wanted to open a fine-dining restaurant; instead, he built a burrito empire (cnbc.com)
Steve Ells (famousbirthdays.com)
Chipotle Mexican Grill (chipolte.com)
The History of Chipotle Mexican Grill (thebalancesmb.com)
The Definitive Oral History (bloomberg.com)
Startup Story (fundable.com)
Everything Investors Need to Know (fool.com)
Discounts At Chipotle
Rewards Program: Chipotle offers its Chipotle Loyalty Program, which provides several ongoing benefits. Check their Page for current information and promotions. Also, make sure and check out our Rewards Program Page for links to all restaurants featured on Back of the Menu.
For a better understanding of how restaurant discounts work and why they can be so inconsistent, check out In the world of restaurant discounts: What you need to know.
Chipotle & Related Items on Amazonno products
Food & Nutrition
Menu: Chipotle Menu
Kids Menu: Chipotle Kids Menu
Most Popular Menu Item: Burrito Bowl
Coke or Pepsi: Coke
Serve Alcohol: Yes
Nutritional Information: Chipotle Nutrition Guide
Vegetarian | Vegan Options: Chipotle offers a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options. You can view the different options on their menu.
Clean Eating (farm to table, organic options, non-GMO, etc.): Is Chipotle healthy?
Allergen Information: Chipotle Allergen Guide
Gluten-Free Options: Chipotle Gluten-Free Menu
Dairy-Free Options: Chipotle Dairy-Free Menu
Peanut Free Options: At this time, Chipotle does not offer any peanut-free allergen information on their site.
Does Chipotle Have Any Secret Recipes?
Chipotle Secret Recipes:
Chipotle Mexican Grill Barbacoa Burrito (topsecretrecipes.com)
Grill Guacamole (copykat.com)
Green Chili Shredded Pork (tasteofhome.com)
Corn Salsa (foodnetwork.com)
Cilantro Lime Rice (delish.com) (copykat.com)
Beer-Braised Carnitas Burrito Bowl (tasteloveandnourish.com)
Barbacoa (theslowroasteditalian.com) (tasteofhome.com)
Burrito Bowls (savingslifestyle.com) (delish.com)
Pico De Gallo (momontimeout.com)
Did You Know?
They have their currency! Chipotle has been handing out burrito coins to loyal customers as far back as 1999. The coins are good for one free burrito. (huffingtonpost.ca )
Chipotle’s most efficient locations can serve 350 customers in just one hour. (fool.com)
They use 100,000 avocados every day to make their famous guacamole. (huffingtonpost.ca)
Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz has an avocado farm that supplies Chipotle with 30,000 pounds of avocados every year. (huffingtonpost.ca)
The music inside Chipotle restaurants is put together by DJ Christopher Golub and takes into account the acoustics inside the restaurant. (firstwefeast.com)
You can order nachos or quesadillas or a Quesarito (a quesadilla-burrito hybrid), even though they’re not menu items. (thedailymeal.com)
If you dress up for Halloween, you can buy a “burrito” for a discount. (buzzfeed.com)
They don’t run many ads, but all the ads they do come up with are done in-house and mostly focus on the benefits of small scale and local farming. (thedailymeal.com)
The company owns Pizzeria Locale, a quick-serve restaurant that allows customers to create their baked-to-order pizzas. (fool.com)
16 Things You Didn’t Know (thrillist.com)
15 Things You Didn’t Know About Chipotle (huffingtonpost.com)
17 Awesome Facts You Didn’t Know About Chipotle (buzzfeed.com)
10 Things You Didn’t Know (firstwefeast.com)
13 Things You Didn’t Know (thedailymeal.com)
9 Things You Didn’t Know (businessinsider.com)
Chipotle & Related Items on Amazonno products
Food Type: Chuy’s, Freebirds World Burrito, Moe’s Southwest Grill
Restaurant Type: Firehouse Subs, Jason’s Deli, Panda Express
For an alphabetical listing of all our restaurants, go to our Restaurants Page.