When Juana Ortiz first tasted Chipotle's food, it reminded her of the burritos her father used to make her. She knew immediately she had to work there. Five years later, she helps transform the employees she manages at her San Diego store into young leaders. One former cashier from Mexico stands out.
“She came in and applied to Chipotle, and I communicated with her and did not understand one thing,” Ortiz says. “She couldn't communicate back to me.” Now the woman has overcome her language barrier, learned to count U.S. currency, and is poised to become a manager herself.
Ortiz—and her apprentice—are exactly the type of managers Chipotle seeks to cultivate through their Restaurateur program, which recently grew to more than 100 members.
“[Before the Restaurateur program started about three years ago,] we were taking our very best managers, people who were sort of by nature ambitious and wanted more respect and all of that, and were promoting them to multi-unit positions,” says Chris Arnold, director of public relations for Chipotle. “You take that most important person out of the job where perhaps they have the most impact, so we wanted to create a program that would keep our best managers in the restaurants and provide the kinds of incentives and opportunities that would make them happier there for the long-run.”
Restaurateurs go through a rigorous application process that includes an interview with Steve Ells and Monty Moran, the company's co-CEOs, before they are accepted into the program. They are expected to demonstrate more than an outstanding commitment to their stores, to great food, and to excellence in sales; they must also have a proven talent for cultivating similar skills in others.
“That is really what separates a Restaurateur from a really solid triple-A manager,” Arnold says.
Membership in the Restaurateur program comes with a salary increase, as well as other performance-based rewards. Restaurateurs get a $10,000 bonus for helping other managers earn acceptance into the elite program, and if their store exceeds the year's sales goals, they get a check for 10 percent of the surplus. Chipotle ends up giving performance-based reward to most all Restaurateurs, including Ortiz.
“It's really an extraordinary group of people who have come up through the ranks—often through crew positions—to having this career now with a six-figure earning potential and the opportunity to be really part of this broader vision of ours: to change the way the world thinks about and eats fast food,” Arnold says.
Restaurateurs come from all walks of life. There's the recent college graduate who only intended to work at Chipotle until he got a “real” job and never left. Then there's the ex-chemical engineer who wanted a change of pace after she had children and found her calling at Chipotle.
Today, 8 to 10 percent of Chipotle stores are run by Restaurateurs. As the Restaurateur program expands—members can now move on to even higher levels depending on the number of nearby stores where they help train management—Arnold says the goal is to eventually get that number as close to 100 as possible.
“At a time like this when so many people are making hard decisions about where and how they spend money every day, it's really important for us—more important than normal—to earn customers' business every time they come in,” Arnold says. “Our Restaurateurs are the people in our restaurants who really best exemplify that kind of spirit.”