If you haven’t read it yet, you need to bookmark Bloomberg‘s Chipotle: The Definitive Oral History article, which is like a Radiolab podcast in written form. It’s the story of Chipotle told by nearly 25 different people, including the founder, his father, his college buddies, key execs, and a couple of pig farmers.
Hard facts and figures tell you exactly how much a company has grown and changed, and the article definitely includes a few of those. But they take a backseat to the personal experiences—with all the hindsight and humor that entails—of the people involved. Not only do we hear from Chipotle’s founder and CEO Steve Ells, but we hear about him too.
Steve Ells. (Photo: Chipotle)
“Steve was a bit of a delinquent actually in high school,” recounts Chipotle CMO Mark Crumpacker. Co-CEO Monty Moran recalls his first impression of Ells from college: “The first time I walked in his house, he was dropping an anchovy into a blender where he was emulsifying a Caesar dressing.”
That gives you a sense of the highly personal storytelling, which describes Chipotle’s founding in 1993 and McDonald’s investment in the company in 1998—and all the growing pains of that period, of course. “Our first recipe for carnitas was kind of like dried erasers,” admits head of social media marketing Joe Stupp.
The first Chipotle was opened in 1993 in Denver. (Photo: Facebook/Chipotle)
Over the next seven years, Chipotle expanded from 13 to about 500 locations with the help of McDonald’s resources and expertise. But as Chipotle asserted its brand identity, the differences between the two company cultures became apparent.
It’s here that the article is at its most subjective (McDonald’s declined to provide quotes for the article) yet also its most interesting, like when former Chipotle marketing director Jim Adams recounts the pushback they got on this ad.
Photo: Bloomberg Business
“We got a little heat from that, and finally, McDonald’s asked us in a very polite way, ‘Pull that one back.’ And we did,” says Adams.
In 2006, McDonald’s sold its shares and Chipotle became a publicly traded company, a move McDonald’s has probably come to regret—Chipotle shares are at an all-time high while its own sales are languishing. Chipotle is growing in other ways too, creating new partnerships and expanding into South East Asian cuisine (ShopHouse) and pizza (Pizzeria Locale).
It’s been a wild ride for the 21-year-old company, which is currently at the top of its game and its industry. And reading about it from the point of view of the riders is one of the most fun history lessons we’ve had since Comedy Central’s Drunk History. Read the full article here to understand the direction that fast-casual food—and online journalism—is heading.