the chain gang

Chipotle’s Beleaguered CEO Has Agreed to Step Down

Twenty-four years still isn’t a shabby run, though. Photo: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Steve Ells, Chipotle’s longtime and long-embattled CEO, says he’s going to step aside to see if some fresh blood helps the struggling burrito chain regain some of its pre–E. coli–era luster. He’s run the company since opening the very first store in Denver in 1993 — coming up on 25 years — and became the company’s sole chief executive sort of Survivor-style in 2016. Ells says he’s out as soon as a replacement is found. He’s not bailing entirely, however: Chipotle adds that he’ll remain chair of the chain’s board, his title morphing into “executive chairman.”

“It is clear that we need to move faster to make improvements,” Ells said in a statement, according to Bloomberg News, adding that bringing a new CEO in “is the right thing to do for all our stakeholders” because it will “allow me to focus on my strengths, which include bringing innovation to the way we source and prepare our food.”

Chipotle has hit more than several hang-ups since the food-illness crisis struck in 2015. It’s been sued by investors several times, and suffered a data hack lawyers say executives saw coming. Customers weren’t too fond of the queso it rolled out in September — one of the few menu additions the chain has ever made. It weathered yet another health scare in July when a norovirus incident plagued customers in Virginia. And in August, mice were even spotted on the walls of a location down in Dallas. “Simply put,” Ells summarizes, “we need to execute better to ensure our future success.”

Chipotle’s Beleaguered CEO Has Agreed to Step Down