September 12, 1966|
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
University of Colorado at Boulder (B.A.)|
Culinary Institute of America
|Known for||Founding Chipotle Mexican Grill|
Steve Ells (born September 12, 1966) is an American businessman. He is the founder, former CEO, and Executive Chairman of Chipotle Mexican Grill. Ells founded Chipotle in 1993, and under his direction, the chain serves what it describes as "naturally raised meat" and promotes sustainable agriculture.
Chipotle announced on November 29, 2017 Ells' resignation as CEO pending the search for a new CEO with "turnaround expertise." Ells will serve as executive chairman following the appointment of a new CEO, and will serve on the CEO search committee. As of February 13, 2018, Brian Niccol has been named CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Ells was born in Indianapolis, the son of a pharmaceutical executive. He attended Boulder High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History and became a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity. Ells later enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, graduating in 1990.
Ells served for two years as a sous chef under Jeremiah Tower at Stars restaurant in San Francisco prior to launching Chipotle. Ells opened a Chipotle themed taco store in Denver, Colorado near the University of Denver campus using $85,000 borrowed from his family and friends. Ells served as CEO of the chain from 1993 until 2009, when he split co-CEO duties with Monty Moran. Ells returned as sole CEO on December 12, 2016 upon Moran's retirement. In 2007 Ells received the CEO of the Year Award from ColoradoBiz magazine. He currently sits on the board of directors of the Land Institute.
In 2010 Ells joined the judging and investment panel on NBC's series America's Next Great Restaurant alongside Bobby Flay, Curtis Stone and Lorena Garcia. Ells had not previously watched reality television and was disillusioned with the experience.
Chipotle announced on November 29, 2017 that Ells will step down as CEO following the appointment of a new CEO with "turnaround expertise." Ells will serve as executive chairman after the new CEO appointment, and will serve on the CEO search committee with fellow Chipotle board members Robin Hickenlooper and Ali Namvar.
Ells has received criticism over his salary. In 2013, The New York Times reported he was paid $25.1 million, more than equivalent executives in companies like Ford, Boeing, and AT&T. By the early 2010s, Ells and his co-CEO, Montgomery Moran, were paid more than $300 million. In May 2014 shareholders rejected a plan to further the executives' wages.
In March 2017, Ells was publicly lambasted on Twitter over his reported behavior at an upscale restaurant in Denver. According to RVShare co-founder Joel Clark, Ells and his team were "uppity and condescending" to staff at the restaurant, culminating with Ells loudly humiliating his server for "pouring his wine with the label facing the wrong way." 
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