Chipotle Founder Steve Ells Built His Net Worth With Burritos
Tex-Mex chain Chipotle has officially opened its 3,000th restaurant, and its success in the fast-food industry is definitely due to founder and former CEO Steve Ells.
Along with Chipotle's number of locations, Ells has also seen his net worth increase since the first restaurant opened in three decades ago.
Ells’ net worth is now at an estimated $200 million, but how did Ells succeed and what is his salary today? Keep reading to find out.
Founder of Chipotle Mexican Grill
Net worth: $200 Million
Steve Ells is the founder and former CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, which opened its first restaurant in 1993 in Denver, Colo.
Birth Name: Steve Ells
Birthdate: September 12, 1965
Birthplace: Indianapolis, Indiana
Education: University of Colorado at Boulder (BA), Culinary Institute of America
Steve Ells opened his first Chipotle opened in 1993.
Trained in the culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of American in New York, Ells worked as a sous chef under celebrity chef Jeremiah Towers for two years before opening the first Chipotle in Denver, Colo.
While he was working at Towers' Stars restaurant in San Francisco, he got the idea for Chipotle after seeing the long lines of hungry patrons at a burrito joint in the Mission district of the city.
"I remember jotting down on a napkin at that moment how many people were going through the line, how quickly, and I thought, they probably have this much in sales, the food costs might be X - a good little business," Ells told the Rocky Mountain News in 2006.
In 1998, Chipotle signed a deal with McDonald's, which helped the company expand.
With $85,000 he borrowed from his father, he opened the first Chipotle near the University of Denver campus.
For years, the fast-casual restaurant chain mainly remained in the Denver area. Then Ells brokered a deal with McDonald's Corporation in 1998, which helped the restaurants expand across the country.
By 2006, Chipotle had grown to over 500 locations. That same year McDonald's divested itself from the restaurant chain, and the company went public.
The Chipotle IPO popped on the first day of trading, and its stock price doubled. Ells' million-plus shares jumped in value to $45 million.
Ells was named Business Person of the Year in 2006.
Ells continued to make improvements to the restaurants and the food it offers. Under his leadership, Chipotle started only using natural and humanely-raised, hormone-free meat. The restaurant's success prompted the Rocky Mountain News to name Ells as the Business Person of the Year in 2006.
"Steve is tremendously interested in making positive changes, even if small. He won't stop until our food is the best in the world," former Chipotle President and longtime friend Monty Moran told the Rocky Mountain News in 2006.
However, Ells was criticized for his $25 million salary in 2013.
Ells received some flack over the years for his salary at Chipotle. A 2013 New York Times article reported that his over $25 million salary was higher than what executives at Ford, Boeing, and AT&T are paid.
In 2017, Ells resigned as Chipotle CEO. He continued with the company as chairman of the board of directors until 2020. He no longer has ties to the company.
What is Steve Ells doing today?
These days, Ells is involved in real estate investments. In November 2021, he dropped almost $30 million on a townhouse in Manhattan's West Village.
The 9,000 square foot townhouse was just going to be Ells' temporary home while his "mega-mansion" was being built down the street, the New York Post reported.
Ells had purchased two nearby properties in 2014 and 2015 for an estimated $32.5 million and planned to combine the two.
According to TheRichest, Ells' net worth is an estimated $200 million, and Ells also currently sits on the board of directors of The Land Institute, which is dedicated to addressing sustainable agriculture issues.