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Steve Ells Quotes

Steve Ells Chipotle

Steve Ells quotes: insights from the Chipotle founder.

“Focus on just a few things, and do them better than anybody else.”

“Looking inward and understanding where you made mistakes in the past helps you set up for change.”

“I’m always tweaking, always trying to make it better, constantly moving the levers and dials.”

“You know, I hate to borrow Apple’s tag, but think different.  Really.  From the very beginning.”

“Ignorance is bliss.  Knowing what a hard business restaurants are and the failure rate, I don’t think I would be as good at starting it now.  I think it helps to be bold and unafraid.  I’m glad I didn’t know a lot back then when I first started.”

“It’s really a luxury to be able to spend four years at an institution… where you can sort of be indulgent, go to lectures, read and study and think.  That’s really something.  People in school should savor those years.”

“I was always quite rebellious and did things my own way.”

“I’m a perfectionist.”

“I stay energized by doing a lot of exercise—running or cycling.”

“I was always interested in cooking; it was always a hobby of mine.”

“A great restaurateur is someone who’s truly passionate about what they do.  They are usually perfectionists who are never satisfied with their restaurant.  They are not in it for the money but for the love of the food.  The very best are leaders who empower their teams to carry on their mission or start their own restaurants.”

“We can teach people how to run a Chipotle.  But you can’t teach someone how to be polite and hospitable and high-energy and smart and ambitious and curious and happy and respectful and honest and presentable and conscientious and motivated and infectiously enthusiastic.”

“Our culture appeals only to high performers.  We want our future leaders to be among the ranks today, so we give bonuses to managers for empowering their people and for identifying members of their crew who have management potential.  We also have another bonus for increasing sales above projection.  We want our folks—all 25,000 of them—to think like owners.”

“I think about opportunity more than minimum wage.  I would rather give people an opportunity to avail themselves of leadership positions and positions that are a long-term career, and I think by offering this kind of thing you are attracting a higher caliber of person who is not going to stand for a minimum wage.”

“When I graduated from cooking school, I went to work at Stars, which was one of my favorite restaurants in the country at the time, and that’s where I really learned to cook and to taste food in a discerning way.”

“I didn’t know what the fast food rules were.  I got my training at the Culinary Institute Of America, and then I opened up a fast food place according to fine dining rules.”

“After a two-year stint at Stars, I wanted to start my own full-service restaurant, but I didn’t have the funds to do so, so I got a modest loan from my parents and opened Chipotle with the goal of having it fund that restaurant.”

“I was so terrified that the business would not do well and that there would be no way that I would be in a position to pay my dad back this $80,000.  At Stars, as a line cook, I think that I was making $10 or $12 an hour.  So $80,000—to have to pay that back was incomprehensible.”

“My undergraduate degree was in art history!  Raising money for Chipotle was really my MBA.  The money for my first restaurant came from my dad, the second from mostly cash flow.  The third was an SBA loan.  After my dad invested $1.5 million to open a few more, he suggested I raise the money myself for the experience.”

“I remember feeling a little guilty every time I opened a Chipotle.  I felt guilty because I wasn’t following my true passion.  But that eventually went away.  And I realized that this is my calling.”

“I’m not a good planner.  I didn’t have this grand vision for doing all these things in a very linear progression.  One thing that is a commonality in all of these decisions is that they felt like the right decisions.”

“Chipotle was wildly successful, and I thought, ‘Well, let me open one more.'”

“Never in our 20-year history have I set a goal of becoming a national chain or a global brand or having a certain number of restaurants or a certain number of markets or a certain run rate or anything like that.”

“And the dream of opening a gourmet restaurant?  That’s what I’m doing now!”

“McDonald’s put in $330 million over seven years and made $1 billion on its investment.  They funded our growth, which allowed us to open 535 restaurants.”

“I’m a visionary founder that not only created a new and successful brand, but also revolutionized casual dining in 1993 with the introduction of Chipotle and the concept of food with integrity.”

“I attribute Chipotle’s success to my firm belief that customers notice food prepared with integrity.”

“’Food with integrity’ is about sustainable food, responsible treatment of the land and animals.  It is also based on the idea of including diners in the experience through an ‘open kitchen,’ where you can see the ingredients and how the food is prepared.  It is just like having a dinner party where everybody ends up in the kitchen.”

“I found a way to turn the fast food stereotype upside down and still achieve immense success.  Allowing the words ‘integrity,’ ‘authenticity’ and ‘transparency’ to guide me.”

“The food with integrity journey is never going to be over.”

“We believe that our popularity among the younger consumers is tied to our vision and the growing interest in issues related to food and how it is raised.  Our own research shows that these issues are clearly becoming more relevant and important when customers choose where they will dine.”

“For all of us, it is important to understand where our food comes from.  Go to your local farmers markets.  Know what is in season.  And, understand where and how your meats are being raised.”

“On the surface, sustainable food appears to cost more.  But, if you look at the cost of industrialized [processed] food and then add in the cost of environmental degradation, displaced family farms, the exploitation of animals, the ramifications of the overuse of antibiotics, etc., you come to understand that there’s no real value in the industrialized system.”

“I have been fortunate to have visited many special places where people have respect for the land.  Paul and Phyllis Willis from Niman Ranch live at a place they call the Dream Farm in Thornton, Iowa.  They have been working for years to bring back the native prairie grasses and wetlands, which are not only beautiful, but important to the ecosystem and native species.  Here you can see first-hand how responsible farming practices are so important to the earth.”

“We decided long ago that we didn’t want our success to be tied to the exploitation of animals, farmers or the environment, but the engagement of our customers.”

“I am especially grateful to the employees and our valued customers over the last 27 years who helped make Chipotle the unmatched brand in fast-casual dining it is today.  I look forward to following Chipotle’s continued growth and success for many years to come.”

“In many ways I was lucky, not everyone has the resources or support they need to help realize their dreams.  In addition to running my growing culinary empire I sit on the board of directors of the Land Institute, a non-profit research, education, and policy organization.”

“This is my advice to you: find out how you can serve others while doing what you love.”

Cory Johnson: CEO of a business he has yet to launch. As seen on your mom’s phone. Scaled to 7-figures in seven seconds selling a course on selling courses. Kidding. Watch this.