Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Entrepreneurial spirit, wherever it is manifested must be applauded. There are many lucky inheritors of industrial empires and building on what is inherited is also some thing deserving admiration. In the catering sector there are many corporate ventures which are shining examples of excellent managerial competence and far sighted vision. Chipotle, the restaurant chain that specializes in Mexican foods, is one of the marvels of modern era as it has been able to carve out for itself a significant clientele base in the US and spread its wings beyond the borders. It recently celebrated the opening of its 1000th restaurant which is not a small achievement measured by any yardstick. The saga of this 17 year wonder can be an excellent model for any new entrepreneurs wishing to be counted amongst the big business players.

"Ells, a classically trained chef who studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, before beginning his culinary career at a fine dining restaurant in San Francisco, originally planned to pursue his dream of being a chef and owning his own restaurant. But the success of the first Chipotle gave rise to a new plan and has given Ells a bigger platform to influence how people eat. "I wanted to have a 'real' restaurant, but I didn't know enough about the business or the economics of running a restaurant," explains Ells. "My plan was to use Chipotle as a cash cow to help me finance my own restaurant. It was a novel idea: I'd show that food that was fast didn't have to be a typical fast-food experience. I used great quality ingredients and cooked everything in the restaurant using classical cooking techniques. People loved it so I opened another, and another, and so on. "Since opening the first restaurant in 1993 and shifting his plan to build more Chipotle locations, Ells and Chipotle have achieved a number of restaurant industry firsts. Chipotle was the first national restaurant company to commit to serving naturally raised meat (from animals that are raised in a humane way, never given antibiotics or added hormone and fed a pure vegetarian diet), the first to commit to local and organically grown produce, and the first to serve dairy (cheese and sour cream) made with milk from cows that are not treated with the synthetic hormone rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). Ells calls the vision behind this commitment "Food with Integrity" and it has the company looking for more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients it uses. "Our focus on making great tasting food with more sustainably raised ingredients available and affordable for everyone is one of the keys to our success," says Ells. "These better quality ingredients allow us to make better tasting food, and that's what keeps our customers coming back. While some of our customers don't know the depths of our commitment to finding such great ingredients, the discipline to focus on making food this way has contributed significantly to our reaching the 1,000 restaurant milestone."


Taco Bell chain of fast food restaurants, also specialized in Mexican foods had its beginning almost 50 years ago and has about 5800 outlets to day with a customer base of almost 2 billion but is owned by well established corporate giants. The success of Chipotle, with more than $ 120 million annual business and 22000 employees, is all the more creditable considering the domination of the market by Taco Bell. Chipotle is a typical example of development driven by consumer demand as its founder with a vision to establish a high end restaurant was pushed farther and farther to set up more and more fast food joints which were liked by the customers. What factors contributed to the roaring success of Chipotle need to be studied for the benefit of future entrepreneurs venturing into new business. Though the claims such as use of local produce, organic raw materials, milk from farm raised cows, meat from open reared animals etc might have helped them to attract customers, they do not provide a complete answer. Probably the quality of food served, the style of serving, diversity of foods offered, decor of the joints, customer service, cost factor etc might have more to do with the success of this unique fast food chain than other factors.


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