Chipotle Mexican Grill announced it hired Stephen Piacentini as chief development officer, effective June 19. Piacentini will report directly to chief brand officer Chris Brandt. He replaces Tabassum Zalotrawala, who joined McDonald’s as its senior vice president and U.S. chief development officer in late April. Zalotrawala had served as Chipotle’s CDO since late 2018. More than 750 restaurants were opened during her tenure, including more than 550 drive-thru Chipotlane locations.

Most recently, Piacentini served as the U.S. CDO at The Wendy’s Company where he clocked more than four years leading the development of new restaurants in the U.S. by partnering with existing franchisees, recruiting new franchisees, and strategically activating real estate opportunities. He also launched programs designed to help growth-minded franchisees build their restaurant portfolios and supported the brand’s global expansion.

In 2022, U.S. and Canadian Wendy’s operators achieved three-year sales growth of more than 18 percent and 24 percent, respectively. Company-owned outlets saw Q1 U.S. comps rise 7.4 percent year-over-year and 9.3 percent on a two-year basis. Franchise same-store sales grew 7.2 percent year-over-year and 8.2 percent over two years. 

Wendy’s finished Q1 with 5,989 U.S. units (403 company-owned, 5,586 franchises) and 1,106 international stores (11 company-owned, 1,095 franchises). The chain opened a net of 39 restaurants globally in the first quarter, including 20 in the U.S. and 19 internationally. Through the first quarter, roughly 45 percent of this year’s pipeline is either open or under construction. Also, 80 percent of the footprint has completed restaurant reimaging, up from 74 percent in the year-ago period. The fast-food brand remains on pace to achieve 2–3 percent net unit growth in 2023 and 2024 and 3–4 percent in 2025. 

Wendy’s opened a net of 56 U.S. locations last year.

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“Stephen’s development experience will be instrumental for Chipotle as our organization enters its highest growth period in history,” Brandt said in a statement. “His expertise in domestic and international markets will help us accomplish our goal of increasing access to our real food around the world.”

Before his time at The Wendy’s Company, Piacentini served as the CDO at now-Inspire Brands-run Jimmy John’s and spent more than 13 years at Taco Bell, holding various positions in finance and development.

“From afar, I’ve always admired Chipotle’s unwavering commitment to its purpose and its employees,” Piacentini added in a statement. “This is a rare opportunity to grow an iconic brand’s footprint in North America and beyond, and I can’t wait to get to work.”

There is ample whitespace ahead of Chipotle. The chain expects to open between 255–285 new restaurants this year. It debuted a net of 211 last year to reach 3,129 stateside, a rate that trailed only Starbucks (429), Crumbl Cookies (363), and Jersey Mike’s (297) among the top-50 grossing quick-serves in America. 

The long-view goal remains 7,000 North America units. Chipotle is on track to grow new restaurants 8–10 percent per year for the foreseeable future, and at least 80 percent of that plan will include the brand’s order-ahead pickup lane. The chain recently opened its first “Chipotlane” in Ontario, Canada, and, of its 41 new stores debuted in Q1 overall, 34 included the option. 

The international runway is clear as well. Back in June 2021, CEO Brian Niccol said he was “bullish” on the chain’s overseas prospects. This includes U.K. growth, and plans to debut “some restaurants in France.” Chipotle noted earlier that year it believed there was for “a least a few hundred restaurants in Canada,” as unit economics approach U.S. stores.

Previously, Chipotle tried to grow in France (2012 to start) and Germany (August 2013 was the first) a shot.

Chipotle’s same-store sales lifted 10.9 percent, year-over-year in Q1. The company’s total revenue increased 17.2 percent to $2.4 billion.

Fast Casual, Growth, News, Chipotle