Over the weekend, FastCo published a massive profile of Chipotle, a chain that’s been plagued with bad press since a 2015 E. coli outbreak shook the company to its core. Among the insights: Chipotle has a massive turnover rate and CEO Steve Ells is incredibly particular about chairs.
Below, the three biggest takeaways from the piece:
• Chipotle’s food safety problems are at least partly due to the chain’s growth.
According to FastCo, Chipotle goes through more than 200,000 pounds of avocados daily — and that volume may have caught up to them. The company’s turnover rate is 130 percent, meaning “the average store will replace its entire head count at least once per year.” That cycle makes food safety training difficult.
Before the E. coli outbreak, Chipotle had only four people assigned to quality assurance — a number that one analyst said was far too small for such a large operation: "There is no way a team that small could properly manage all the food coming into that system."
• Internally, Chipotle executives feared the food safety protocols instituted in the wake of the E. coli outbreak were affecting the quality of the food.
In an effort to ensure food safety, Chipotle changed the way it prepares some of its ingredients, pre-cooking steaks off-site, then shipping them to stores where they're marinated and reheated on the grill before being served. The taste suffered as a result, which some diners comparing the steak to canned meatballs.
Co-CEO Monty Moran told FastCo, "The quality wasn’t what it was. Customers thought we went to iceberg lettuce. That broke our hearts."
Ells is defiant, though, telling FastCo it’s "misleading" to call the steak "precooked:”
Rather, he says—his eyes peering over his narrow-framed glasses—it’s "sous-vide." This is the French cooking term for immersing food, sealed in a bag, in a low-temperature water bath to heat it slowly and more evenly. "This technique was used by many chefs and still is because you can precisely control the characteristics of meat and achieve a certain kind of tenderness," Ells says. "I’d say the steak is [now] more tender. It actually improves it."
Ells also deems the blanching of produce to be “part of the world of classic cooking techniques."
• Ells is also, it turns out, very particular. In fact, he once “lost his cool” over some noisy stools:
Once, on a restaurant visit, Ells lost his cool when he heard how much racket a set of new stools was making when dragged against the floor. "They’re too damn noisy!" he yelled at his team, according to two sources. "I never want to see one of these stools again!" It didn’t matter that he’d approved their design, or that they’d already been shipped to around 50 stores. (Arnold, the Chipotle spokesperson, says, "I am not aware of this incident.")
He’s also a man with big ideas — many of which don’t work out. According to FastCo, Ells had custom $6,000 grills installed in many locations and at one point longed for juicers to be included in all store kitchens (to juice the limes that go into the guacamole). He also “once spent a year and a half cycling through prototypes for an egg cooker so Chipotle could offer breakfast burritos” , something that sadly never came to fruition.
• Chipotle Eats Itself [FastCo]
• Tracking Chipotle’s Public Health Disaster [E]
• All Chipotle Coverage [E]