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Chipotle Taps Taco Bell CEO to Be Its New Head (bloomberg.com)
87 points by fludlight 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 97 comments

The article doesn't mention that Taco Bell's kitchen systems are designed to eliminate many weak links in fast food preparation and handling. It doesn't prevent the line worker from sneezing influenza on the burrito, but that's also not how you get e.coli outbreaks.

If CMG is looking to get past their previous history of systemic food safety issues, this was probably a good choice.

The article also doesn't mention that Chipotle's first big period of expansion was while it was owned by McDonalds. I have to imagine that McDonalds had an expertise in this area that at least matched Taco Bell if not greatly exceeded them.

McDonald's did indeed help Chipotle get their logistical systems in order. CMG and MCD still share some common suppliers.

One area where Chipotle resisted McD's advice was in automating their kitchen systems. One example was the steak. CMG believed hand-marinating and grilling their steaks in-store was a core feature that couldn't be changed. It's also a highly risky procedure when it comes to food safety and cross-contamination.

Other things, like the carnitas and barbacoa, were changed to be prepared offsite and shipped to the stores for sous-vide rethermalizing and serving. The steak was also changed to this method after the outbreaks (and long after MCD divested).

And alas the barbacoa at least hasn’t been half as good as when it was store prepared.

I understand why Chipotle has shifted focus so dramatically to food safety, but they’ve taken their eye off the ball on quality. My local shop has even had trouble getting the formerly routinely delicious rice cooked properly. I assume this is because of demands for a much tighter preparation schedule and serving window.

Why is it so hard for a fast food chain to avoid cross-contamination vs. other restaurants? Is it because they don't train workers properly?

Other restaurants have food-borne illness problems occasionally too, but when you have thousands of locations it makes national news.

But they should be isolated incidences unless you have a systematic problem. One chef treating meat incorrectly can cause issues in one restaurant but not across the country.

What Chipotle experienced was more than what you'd expect to happen in well-run restaurants that prepare everything themselves.

I mean, if my experiences are anything, it's because people don't care enough. At fat food joints you've got a bunch of high school and college kids who want to get off and party or get off and finish their mounting homework. It's not willful, just part of being 17/18/19 at an "unimportant" job. We had some adult-adults who worked there as well, and it was a night and day difference.

Again, it's not willful or malicious, just laziness.

Also, when you are only paid $6 after taxes for every hour you work, why should you care? The company doesn't value you enough to care.

Eh, I agree and disagree. It's difficult to care when you're not paid a lot and other similar jobs are dime a dozen, but morally I can't say it's right. And, really, I have a difficult time believing 16/17/18/19 year olds are going to put in a lot of extra effort flipping burgers, even if they're paid $10 or $15 an hour. Kids are kids, I was one too.

Right, but if the company wanted to focus on quality, then it's their fault for hiring kids or otherwise setting wages at a point where only kids can really afford to work there

Total agreement on that point.

> At fat food joints

I don't know if that was intentional or not, but I like it! :)

That might be part of it. Plenty of other restaurants need (at the least) experienced cooks who probably would have gotten bounced out if they couldn't keep food safety more or less in order.

A lot of it, I would guess, is simple scale. There's like 800 more Chipotle restaurants than Chili's, and I'd be damn sure the volume of meals coming out of each one is skewed far towards Chipotle as well.

Your average Chili's kitchen is more automated than a Chipotle.


2019 = Order via speech recognition

2020 = Automated kitchen systems prepare ingredients

2021 = Burrito preparation via robotics

2021 = End-to-end order fulfillment without human involvement

Just a matter of time before raw ingredients are lab grown and harvested by robots. Not too long ago, this was pure fantasy. Only now is it starting to look inevitable, for better or for worse.

The robots will still somehow make the burritos too large and the tortilla not properly contain it.

I guess what I don't understand is why we don't have more human-free systems for food payment. All of 15 years ago, I went in a company cafeteria in Tsukuba, paid a vending machine, and took the ticket to the cook. If I had been able to speak any Japanese back then, I probably could have customized my order there. But here in the US we're still hiring fast food workers to take standardized orders.

Because Japan's demographics made it imperative and conversely our importation of cheap labor subsidized or delayed the need to introduce automation to offset costs.

They're starting to appear. McDonalds has now introduced it in multiple European countries, plus isolated restaurants here and there (e.g. Burgerlich in Hamburg, which has touchscreens embedded in the tables: https://goo.gl/oJAh9v)

Almost every McDonald's I've been to in Europe and Canada has a set of Kiosks where you can order what you want (in English) and pay. You then take a number from the kiosk and sit down and somebody brings your food out to you or screens display your pickup number when it's time. Most ones in the U.S. have stubbornly held on to the less efficient queue at the counter and talk to a bored human system.

You can order McDs on a touchscreen at some locations in Cambridge (Massachusetts not England), it's already made it to America.

There's a burger chain here in the Bay Area called The Melt which has iPad-based kiosks where you can order your food, pay for it with a credit card, and pick up a buzzer (to let you know when it's ready) without having to talk to anyone. It's glorious. I wish all restaurants offered stuff like that.

Coin-operated vending machines for food was actually somewhat popular in the US in the early 1900ds before fast-food. Check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automat

Had the same thought when I was in Tokyo and seeing it more frequently in Scotland where there are more self-serve kiosks at McDonalds than there are regular tills.

There is a small chance that we will see something like Star Trek food replicators in our lifetime.

Do you mean matter replication (no we won't as this violates the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle similar to the transporter), or something akin to a very complex vending machine that can make things from Ramen to Fajitas?

The latter, a very fancy food printer.

It's still pure fantasy.

every one of the constituent parts presently exist, if in early forms. i think his timetable is far too compressed though.

A burrito making robot sounds like a great kickstarter.

Voice based ordering is already available through Alexa and their iPhone app, cmg just behind the times

One of the reasons Taco Bell has been so successful is the separation between POS and prep line. We know everything that happens, and generally when, in sequence. Chipotle is missing tons of data with their on demand prep model.

I'm not sure Niccol is going to like their lack of basic metrics.

Source: work on the restaurant ops software


And if you see scales suddenly show up at CMG stores, you'll know what's up.

Like with Starbucks, it was the individual employees, their kindness, and their appreciation for the product that made Chipotle special for me during their non-mediocre years. I liked Starbucks the most in about 2006 and Chipotle the most at around 2010. It's too bad they're mediocre now. They still both feel magical occasionally, though. I'm not sure whether they compromised the product or the culture first.

The culture may have largely declined by their pay not rising as the pay in fast food did. At least in my area, McDonald’s and Wendy’s pay as much if not more than Chipotle for an entry level position.

Edit: I get that this was probably more about the corporate culture as a whole, but working conditions and pay at the store level is equally as important in terms of customer experience in my opinion. 5 years ago when I went to a Chipotle, the workers there seemed happy. Now when I go, they clearly aren’t.

Absolutely. Whenever we go to fast food and it inevitably sucks, I always quip, "they aren't paid enough to give a shit, and I don't blame them."

Last few times I’ve had chipotle it’s felt like their food was never really warm. Maybe it’s all the cold ingredients being put on top. But swear the rice and meat used to be piping hot years ago.

Nailed it. It's for this reason that I eat Chipotle in-store only. By the time I make the five minute drive home it's already cold.

Slightly off-topic maybe, but I went to Taco Bell for the first time two weeks ago while visiting the beautiful USA. And my god what a terrible food do they make. Why would you go there more then once?

Same question. I've heard so much about Taco Bell from pop culture/internet that I just had to try it. Went to check it out during one of my trips to the US and oh boy.. I was in for a culture shock.

I had some kind of a burrito. I don't think I have ever been served food anywhere else that was more disgusting (sorry, I don't know of a more appropriate word to use here). And I'm not picky at all! I'll eat basically anything that you can throw at me - but this.. this was something else.

To be honest, I assumed and hoped it was a one-off occurrence because I couldn't imagine anybody going there more than once in their lifetime and they couldn't possibly be in the business if they'd constantly serve that kind of fast food.

Just about anything is better than their burritos. Stick to tacos and quesadillas (and French fries, seriously.)

I disagree. A carb wrapped tube of 50% meatlike product and salty, processed cheese sauce, with various other fillings, that you can buy for a dollar, is utterly amazing. I go to taco bell occasionally because $6 gets me an armload of guilty pleasure

I respect that. Is there a better burrito to get than the one that comes in the $5 box, though? I might just not like refried beans as much as everyone else. I like the little breakfast burritos at McDonalds, for reference.

If you don't like re-fried beans, then you might be out of luck, since taco bell commonly uses it as a cheap filler. Maybe the bacon-potato burrito doesn't have it? I think you can ask for the burritos without the beans.

While I like taco bell, I also like Chipotle's barbacoa burritos

Teenagers go there because it is cheap, and open 24hrs a day. If it is 2 am and you are hungry it is basically Taco Bell or Waffle House with the bell being the cheaper of the two.

When in Leeds (England) for a weekend late last year I was overjoyed to see a Taco Bell as it's a franchise we've not had here yet and it's somewhere I've wanted to try ever since I watched 'Demolition Man' as a teenager.

It was everything I ever expected it to be ... I will never eat there again!


It was very bad, everything I would have expected - sort of like 'Old El Paso' ready-made Tex-Mex, as-prepared by a 1980s-era school kitchen.

Disclaimer: IANAF (I am not a foodie)

Because it's cheap and delicious.


It’s also surprisingly vegetarian friendly compared to, say, your average burger joint.

It’s also really cheap. You can eat a days worth of calories for like $10.

Taco Bell loosely belongs to (maybe better to say "is inspired by" or "owes origins to") a class of regional and traditional fusion food called "Texmex". It's a uniquely North American comfort food class that naturally developed over a long period of cultural intermixing along the border region between Texas and Mexico and includes influences from native food traditions, various European immigrant food prep techniques and some locally developed ideas.

I've read that at some point, Lebanese immigrants to Mexico also brought the shawarma/gyro with them and further contributed. I think it fills the same kind of food niche that Doner Kebabs fill in Europe, cheap, fast, unhealthy and filling. It's also an ideal foodtype for post-drunken late-night eating. Tacos seem to originate as a slang term used for mining charges in 18th century Mexican silver mines. At some point, somebody wrapped some meat in a tortilla and sold them as cheap laborer food.

Taco Bell was started by a guy named Glenn Bell back in the 1960s, he organized the menu, standardized on hard taco shells and a franchise model. They eventually discovered a kind of niche as a late night college food because you could easily get a couple days worth of food for cheaper than just about anywhere else -- and despite appearances has a very strong food safety record. Taco Bell is also the target of jokes about being low quality "garbage". (a common joke is that you can pick up your food at the counter and then go flush it down the toilet and cut out the middle man). Still, if you work late nights or went to college as an American, you probably ate a lot at Taco Bell and eventually developed a taste for it. If you've ever watched the movie "Demolition Man" it's a subtle joke throughout the movie that's culturally very funny to Americans.

I've never encountered a proper version of Tex-Mex outside of North America even though lots of places give it a good try. When I travel outside of the U.S. for long periods of time, it's the one kind of food I start to incessantly crave. I've noticed this among other Americans as well. Once, while doing work in Asia in an American enclave, a pop-up Taco Bell showed up charging 3 times the normal price and missing some ingredients and the line was 2 hours long.

They've tried to adopt "higher quality" ingredients and reform themselves in the past, but it's just not in their corporate DNA. More recently, they've decided to embrace their "crap food, fast and cheap" image and have developed an ever changing menu that brings in other junk food stuffs from sister brands. There's probably more food science than food in some of the menu items, but you can think of it as the cheapest molecular gastronomy meal you'll ever have.

Among immigrant friends to the U.S., most of them have their first taste of Taco Bell and think it's similarly revolting, but after a few years in the U.S. the cheapness and ubiquity of it kind of enters the diet. I know of a few people who returned to their home countries and have tried to work with Taco Bell to open franchises locally - and they all hated it the first time they ate it. My wife, a Korean immigrant, craves Taco Bell at times.

This was eye-opening, thank you. In my experience living in Urban Europe, the late-night market is much more fragmented between small deep-fry focused, chicken-focused, middle-eastern/grill and pizza establishments. Some global fast-food chains do run 24h locations in the denser areas, and typically some chicken chains reach a regional/municipal level of franchising. However, we don't have anything as ubiquitous as Taco Bell, such that you would find one open at 4 AM in the neighbourhood of a small rural town.

From a comment below I just learned about the antibiotic free pork supply shortage. That's insane to me there there isn't scale for one restaurant's meat (and I guess Chipotle is by far biggest demand).

Chipotle should vertically integrate and grow their own pork without compromising ethics. It's already a shit margin business, maybe going to zero margin on the farming could help.

One grows a pig, not a pork. Once you kill the pig, its name is supposed to change to pork, though why, I never understood quote well.

The word pig comes from Old English, a germanic language spoken in England during the early middle ages. After William the Conqueror successfully invaded England in 1066 the language of upper classes of England became Anglo-Norman, an old form of French.

Because the English upper classes were speaking Norman many of the culinary terms such as pork, beef, and poultry in modern English come from the Norman language.

But because animals would have been raised by common people they retained the Old English derived names such as pig, cow, chicken.

What’s really interesting is how the animal word is Germanic in origin but the food word is Romantic




The reason is one of the byproducts of the Norman Conquest. The local English people raised cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens, but the nobles (mostly, if not entirely French) were the only ones who could afford to eat meat. They said boeuf, porc, mouton, and pouletrie.


It's more that the Normans used French to make a class distinction. English wanting to ingratiate themselves borrowed terms.

Because they're both burritos

I'm sure the Taco Bell CEO gets the nuance, but if your expertise is slogging low cost / low quality ingredients...it's not obvious you're the person to solve an issue with a company struggling with high-end intentions, but low-quality results. Ever been to a Chipotle? The warning about pork carnitas is pretty off-putting. They basically say you're rolling the dice based on past performance.

From the sources below the warning is to alert consumers that new pork from the UK could have medically necessitated antibiotics use (as in sick pig gets meds to get better, instead of US pigs who ALL get antibiotics to get fatter).

That's very far from rolling the dice with a heath risk.

It should have been framed and explained better.

I personally think that if they can't find meat either they shouldn't sell it (which they did and people got pissed). Or grow your own.

What warning about pork carnitas?

This is the warning I was talking about.

I'm not sure what you mean with rolling the dice - it sounds to me like they're saying, the suppliers may have given antibiotics to the pigs as specific medical care, but are not just blanket giving every pig antibiotics. (The link says that permitting antibiotics for medical care is the one difference between Chipotle UK and US standards, in fact.)

Do you expect either lower-quality meat or higher-health-risk meat as a result of this? I don't think I do but maybe I just don't know enough here.

The short version in the Twitter screenshot doesn't fully explain the antibiotic issue. And it's the same one you see if you go to the restaurant personally. Given their history with E-coli (bacteria)[1], they need to be more explicit about what they mean. Making people sick nationally, with a bacteria, coupled with short critical quips about antibiotics is confusing.

The short warning just read to me as "don't order the pork, you might get sick". Not a great set-up for a good lunch experience. They seem to assume all customers are already educated about their sourcing strategy.

[1] https://www.fda.gov/Food/RecallsOutbreaksEmergencies/Outbrea...

"the CDC reports a total of 55 people infected with the outbreak strain of STEC (Shiga toxin producing E. coli) O26 from a total of 11 states in the larger outbreak"

"Chipotle Mexican Grill closed 43 restaurants in Washington and Oregon in early November 2015 in response to the initial outbreak."

They are dangerously tasty.


That video is really disturbing. Delivered with a smile! "Yup, all these thousands will surely be slaughtered!" I'm not a vegetarian, but...

I'm sure you have plenty to choose from if you prefer a little more corporate hypocrisy with your fries.

Taco Bell has a strong reputation for food safety and menu "innovation" as well as ruthlessly controlling costs and being profitable as a bottom dollar food supplier while operating a "just-in-time" final food product assembly operation.

Basically, he's strong in all the areas where Chipotle is perceived of as being weak.

Both serve different combinations of product from a set of few ingredients.

Let’s see what he can do with a $10 lunch business model.

It's really not that insane. Two garbage egg mcmuffins these days run for $9.50ish which probably costs about 10 cents to make. I'll take the quality of chipotle for $7-10 anyday over the insanely overpriced bullshit the others are pumping out.

I wonder if that would have any influence on the kind and quality of food. Chipotle seems to have decent fast food - nothing to write home about, but qualifies in my book as an ok if not great meal to eat and get on with the day. OTOH, I ate at Taco Bell exactly once in my life and it was the absolutely worst meal I had anywhere in the US. I wouldn't want Chipotle go there. But maybe borrowing CEO doesn't mean moving the food in the same direction. Hopefully.


Revisit this post in a year, and I'd not be surprised to see that it was correct. Turn Chipotle into an upscale version of Taco Bell and market the pants off of crappy food and sit back and watch profits grow.

Chipotle can't really compete with restaurants that actually serve good food, so why not fill the giant divide between them and Taco Bell?

Step 1 already happened, but for food safety consistency reasons. The meats are prepared off-site and shipped now, and more ingredients are frozen. The reduction in flavor quality was obvious.

Though neither freezing nor preparing off-site means flavour has to deteriorate. Frozen food can be preferable to chilled ingredients (whenever you can't get them really fresh). And much prep can be done half a day or a day in advance (as basically all restaurants do it), doing so in a centralised location shouldn't have any negative effect on flavour.

But in Chipotle's case, switching ingredients and preparation methods as a quick response to the outbreak probably led to sub-par standards and lower quality ingredients. It's not that easy changing the whole supply chain in a matter of months.

That divide is already occupied by authentic Mexican restaurants. At least in California, there's no air available. The only thing Chipotle has to leverage is scale enough to push into markets, but the competition is already there.

I'm sad to say I find it to already be that.

Every Saturday during college I would go to Chipotle. It was amazing--especially for the price. I've tried recently in the past, but ever since the e-coli issues, the food has greatly gone down in quality.

>Turn Chipotle into an upscale version of Taco Bell

Taco Bell tried this in the 90s near where I lived at the time (it was called Border Bell) and it never really caught on and closed not too long after it opened.

I wouldn't expect the brand that is most associated with "cheap, filling, and usually not terrible" to be able to pull off a higher price transformation. When you build a brand that strongly based on being cheap, you have to own it...there's just no way to take Taco Bell up-scale (McDonald's is finding this out, too). I'm surprised anybody savvy enough to be in a leadership role at Taco Bell would make that kind of mistake. I don't know much about branding or managing a food business, but I know that can't work (and, I can't think of a single successful example of it).

Chipotle has the brand that is already pretty strong there in that tier of the market just above fast food and below sit-down casual dining.

Taco Bell has managed to break out of this though. Anecdotally, I spend more at Taco Bell per check now than I did 5 years ago. They have so many more small options now, fancier menu items, $1–2 desserts, etc.

They’re coming back now. Some of the remodels look really nice too.


Don't forget the cross promotion with popular video game franchises and soda brands.

Step 4.5: Add Doritos

You’re getting destroyed, but it seems accurate to me. Taco Bell famously repackages the same low quality, low cost ingredients in myriad forms, with intense marketing. Chipotle does something similar, but with higher cost and quality ingredients. Still, the list of what you can work with in a Chipotle is short, very short, and your basic point seems to hold.

>> Taco Bell famously repackages

>> list of what you can work with in a Chipotle is short, very short

That's not specific to Taco Bell or Chipotle. That's called Mexican food.

> That's not specific to Taco Bell or Chipotle. That's called Mexican food

This is my neighbourhood's high-end Mexican restaurant's dinner menu [1]. Good rule of thumb: if you think of the food of any G20 country [2] as being cheap or simple, you're probably wrong.

[1] http://www.cosmenyc.com/menu/menu.pdf

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G20

Reminds me of an old friend. We invited him and his wife out for a nice Italian dinner, and he said "Sorry, I just don't like Italian food. It's nothing but cheese and red sauce!"

someone didn't drink their koolaid this morning....

the guy must know a thing or two about tacos

Another replacement of a founder with a body from the random CEO pool. Knowledge between companies is almost 0% transferrable.

Taco Bell and Chipotle seem pretty similar. Not only are they massive chains of physical locations that would have very similar issues. They are also selling similar food. Mission burritos and Tex Mex (regardless of quality and authenticity) are almost all the same ingredients.

I don't disagree with your comment about just trading the CEO ...

However, operational food safety is VERY transferable and something the Chipotle really needs.

Now, whether this CEO actually has that knowledge is a different discussion ...

> Knowledge between companies is almost 0% transferrable.

Do you have evidence of this? (Does this apply just to the CEO role or to other roles too?)

I have been to Taco Bell only twice and I found the "food" they are selling basically inedible. Definitely wouldn't hire that CEO.

You can never tell how much it was him or the team under him, but Taco Bell really is winning on novelty, new store design, and online ordering. Now that they are linked with grubhub, they are at peak.

Maybe he can at least figure out how to keep the veggies from being a petridish. Here is a hint - subway and most sandwich shops don't keep warm meat next to the veg...

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