business news in context, analysis with attitude

Great interview in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer with Steve Ells, CEO at the 330-unit Chipotle Mexican fast food chain. Ells is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who has turned the burrito into a superior fast food experience…and his comments are instructive.

Excerpts:

  • "We're not authentic Mexican food and we're not Tex-Mex…We don't need or want to fit into any sort of category…It's chicken and rice and beans and tomatoes and corn and things like that, but it's the use of great raw ingredients and great cooking techniques that elevate it to something more extraordinary. It's also interactive service -- the customer gets exactly what they want. We play some good music and create an environment that's sympathetic to the food."


  • "It's the overall experience. It's the combination of all the little details. But, certainly with the food, it's constantly grilling chicken and steaks, and chopping up fresh cilantro for the cilantro and lime rice. Squeezing lime on the fresh tortilla chips and adding kosher salt. Toasting the cumin seeds and grinding them up before adding them to the beans. All these things are details that not everybody does."


  • "You have to know how the animals were raised and what they were fed and if they were given growth hormones or antibiotics. You have to know how your produce was grown….It's much better for the environment, it's better for the animals and it tastes better. This is a situation where everybody wins."


  • About the name "Chipotle"…"I knew that I wanted to use chipotle peppers for the chicken and steak marinade. It's also in the barbacoa. I love the flavor. It's used modestly -- too much of it is too smoky and hot. But if used right, it gives a nuance and a flavor to the food. Everyone told me that it was a bad name to use, because no one knew what it was or could pronounce it. And now everyone knows what it is."

KC's View:
In other words, it's the food, stupid.