Founder and CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill and ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, CIA alumnus Steve Ells '90
has unlocked the secret to a successful and sustainable business model
with his “Food with Integrity” initiative. “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,” he
says. From humanely raised beef to hormone-free sour cream, Steve
incorporates high-quality ingredients into his menu because, as he says,
“they ultimately result in better-tasting food.” The transformation to a
more ethical menu occurred gradually as business grew. The effect is
not only more flavorful food, but greater customer loyalty and increased
In 1990, Steve received his degree from the CIA.
While he served as sous chef under Jeremiah Tower at Stars restaurant
in San Francisco, he was inspired by eating at the local taquerias.
Steve returned home to Denver in hopes of opening a similarly themed
establishment that would help fund his ultimate dream of owning a “real”
restaurant. So, armed with a loan from his father, he launched his very
first burrito restaurant.
Now with more
than 2,000 restaurants, including 25 Chipotle restaurants outside the
US, 15 ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen restaurants, and four Pizzeria
Locale restaurants, Ells sees an opportunity to open doors for
CIA students by creating a scholarship for those who share his
philosophy for sustainability. The Chipotle Mexican Grill Annual
Scholarship will award $2,500 to an emerging culinary professional
demonstrating support for sustainable agricultural practices consistent
with Chipotle’s philosophy.
“My time at The Culinary Institute of America provided a great foundation
and taught me many lessons that are still valuable today,” Steve
explains. “In many ways I was lucky, not everyone has the resources or
support they need to help realize their dreams.” In addition to running
his growing culinary empire Steve sits on the board of directors of the
Land Institute, a non-profit research, education, and policy
In 2010, James Beard Foundation Rising Chef award
winner Nate Appleman ’99, who garnered critical acclaim as executive
chef at A16 and SPQR in San Francisco, was hired as corporate chef of
Chipotle Mexican Grill and ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen.