Chipotle Mexican Grill opened its 1,000th restaurant today. The 1,000th restaurant, located in Flower Mound, Texas, is a milestone that, according to Chipotle founder, chairman and co-CEO Steve Ells, was never supposed to happen. Ells’ original plan for Chipotle called for only one restaurant.

Ells, a classically trained chef who studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, 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,” Ells says. “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,” Ells says. “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.”

Through this commitment, Chipotle serves more naturally raised meat than any other national restaurant company, including all of its pork, 85 percent of its beef, and about 80 percent of its chicken. In all, that amounts to more than 75 million pounds of naturally raised meat this year alone. In addition to getting meat from more sustainable sources, 40 percent of all of its beans are organically grown, and the company plans to use at least 50 percent of at least one produce item from local farms for all of its restaurants (some five million pounds of locally grown produce in all).

Recognizing that a great restaurant experience requires more than just great food, Chipotle has a unique internal people culture – a culture that appeals to and rewards its highest performers. Chipotle employees are now a driving force behind the growth to the 1,000 restaurant mark. This culture is impacting the lives of thousands of Chipotle employees, and improving customer service in its restaurants.

Today, more than 90 percent of Chipotle managers are promoted from within the ranks of its crew, creating excellent career opportunities for these top performers. Its Restaurateur Program, a program that rewards the elite managers who are best at developing crew members into future leaders, now has 168 Restaurateurs overseeing about one-third of its restaurants. These Restaurateurs are the foundation of Chipotle’s people culture, serving as an example to all of the company’s 24,000 employees, and helping to develop top performers into powerful leaders within the organization.

The Chipotle culture of high-performing employees serving Food with Integrity is paying off with a special dining experience for every customer every day.

“Having a culture which attracts and retains top performers allows us to open restaurants with great teams, and the assurance that we are creating a special kind of experience,” says Monty Moran, co-CEO of Chipotle. “By developing our managers internally, we are not only getting the best managers, but we’re creating extraordinary opportunities for our own people. Today, as we open our 1,000th restaurant, we have a deeper bench of potential managers than ever before, which keeps us well positioned for growth knowing that our future leaders are already within the ranks of our managers and crews.”

Menu Innovations, News, Chipotle