Q&A: Chipotle Mexican Grill CEO Steve Ells

Why are fast-casual restaurants leading the industry now?
The days of ordering by a number and having some sort of prepackaged or prescribed meals—that’s not appealing to customers anymore. People don’t want restaurants to tell them that something is good or that something is fresh. The food has to be on display in front of the customer. We put the food on center stage.
What’s new at Chipotle?
For 19 years we haven’t really added a lot to the menu, but we have improved the raw ingredients. That’s the big innovation—better quality. But there are a few things. Brown rice is now an option. People like brown rice because it’s a different texture and has a nuttier taste. People like it for health reasons and because it has more fiber. We’ve also been adding more whole wheat to the tortillas, which makes for a more interesting texture and more complex flavor.
How is your new Washington (D.C.) restaurant, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen?
There’s a line out the door every day. It’s about the same number of different ingredients that you can choose from at Chipotle, but there’s more emphasis on vegetables—Chinese broccoli, corn, eggplant, and long beans. Additionally, we have pickled vegetables and green papaya slaw. The restaurant is doing very, very well.
Where is Chipotle expanding internationally?
London has two restaurants. Paris should be opening in a few weeks. In London they’re cooking great food and sourcing great raw ingredients, and customers are really liking it. We’ll continue to add a few restaurants in London and maybe a couple more in Paris. I’m going to look at a site in Germany soon. While domestic is our main area of growth, ShopHouse and international are ways to seed for the future.

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