Steve Ells: Eating Up the Competition

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In the business world, there are those that rise up to challenges and those that accept mediocrity. Steve Ells is one of those that has risen and overcome the challenges that any person starting their own business must deal with.  Ells is credited with the founding of the Chipotle franchise and has become an icon within the business world for two major reasons.  First, though he runs a chain of over 1000 restaurants, the management style employed by Mr. Ells is unique and fits more to a classical restaurant.  Second, he has become known as one of the forefront men in pushing healthier options within the chain restaurant market even though it demands a higher cost of production.  What Steve Ells has accomplished since the start of his original Chipotle restaurant serves as a constant inspiration to any that would want to start their own business in that through hard work and perseverance, one can accomplish their goals if they are well thought out and executed. Another example of this perseverance is the Subway chain. 

Ells original restaurant was first constructed and opened for business in 1993.  As a recent graduate from the Culinary Institute of America, he wanted to open up a “high-end tablecloth-and-reservations-type restaurant,”1 however he lacked the capital to get the project off the ground.  In light of this, he borrowed $85,000 from his father and opened up the burrito restaurant Chipotle in his old college town of Denver.  His original plan was simple: sell enough burritos so that he could open up his high-class dream restaurant.  Clearly, this dream got sidetracked as his Chipotle restaurant began to grow more and more successful.  The restaurant grew from the single store in Denver to multiple restaurants in the Colorado area until a large investor joined the team: McDonald’s.  From their help, Chipotle grew from 16 locations to over 500.1 The success of the restaurant has only grown since then, as currently, Chipotle opens three new restaurants on a weekly basis, giving the company a revenue stream of 2.3 billion dollars annually2.  Ells has gone from a college grad with a dream to a man that makes roughly 20 million a year from his restaurants and owns about 250,000 shares of Chipotle stock.2 Not bad for an entrepreneur with a dream of opening his own restaurant.  

“What makes Ells an innovative CEO?” one may ask, and the evidence is in his continued efforts to provide options that are both healthier and more sustainable in his menu’s options.  Ells is one of the front most figures at integrating organic, non-GMO food, and free-range foods onto the Chipotle menu.  Ells shook things up by adding “only pasture-farmed pork, raised on a vegetarian diet and free of artificial hormones and antibiotics.” 3  40 percent of the beans used by Chipotle are organic, and the restaurant imports over 10 million pounds of vegetables from local farms annually.1  To compensate for the higher quality of meat used, the prices of burritos increased by one dollar.  Against conventional wisdom, this actually prompted an increase in the sales of those burritos!

Steve Ells started from the bottom with only a dream and an old ice cream shop in Denver.  His original dream was to open a high-class restaurant to go with his classical chef’s training.  Given the rampant success of Chipotle, someone would naturally be inclined to think that Ells has given up his original dream, but the exact opposite is true from his point of view.  When asked if he ever planned to go back to his original dream, Ells responded, “that’s what I’m doing now!” 3 The management style that Ells provided is to cater to the eating experience to the individual but on a large scale.  His newest dream is to revolutionize the American idea of organic food so that it loses the label of being something of elitist.  Given the success that Ells has seen in his past endeavors, it would not be surprising to see that over time he accomplishes just that.  Steve Ells is truly an inspirational man, who has shown the world just how far one can rise if they continue to work hard and follow their dreams.      

Reference List

1. Heffernan M. Dreamers: Chipotle Founder Steve Ells. Reader's Digest. October, 2008. Available at Accessed March 22, 2013

2. Forbes. Steve Ells: At a Glance. Forbes Magazine. 2013. Available at Accessed March 22, 2013

3. Jacobs A.J.. Esquire's Most Inspiring CEO in America: Steve Ells, Founder and co-CEO, Chipotle. Esquire . 2012. Available at Accessed March 22, 2013