Chipotle founder Steve Ells leaves the company after 27 years

Two years after stepping down as CEO of his fast-casual burrito brand, Steve Ells is leaving Chipotle altogether, the company announced on Friday.

First as founder, then CEO and finally chairman of the board, Ells has been a leader at Chipotle for 27 years since opening the first store in Denver in 1993. The company now operates more than 2,600 locations around the country.

Brian Niccol, who replaced Ells as CEO in 2018, will take over as executive chairman. Niccol came to Chipotle from Taco Bell, where, for three years, he led that company’s rebranding efforts as CEO.

Ells stepped down from Chipotle’s CEO to executive chair after years of food-safety issues and plummeting stock prices plagued his company.

“Steve Ells is a visionary founder who not only created a new and successful brand, but also revolutionized casual dining in 1993 with the introduction of Chipotle and the concept of food with integrity,” said Neil Flanzraich, Chipotle’s lead independent director, in a statement on Friday.

Shortly after Niccol stepped in as CEO, and after 25 years based in Denver, Chipotle’s headquarters moved to Newport Beach, Calif. By last month, Chipotle’s stock closed at its highest-ever price of $933.84, the Wall Street Journal reported. As of Friday, shares were down about 2% to $710.48.

“Brian has proven that he is absolutely the right person to lead Chipotle forward,” Ells said in a statement, “and I’ve never been more confident about the future of this great company.”

Subscribe to our new food newsletter, Stuffed, to get Denver food and drink news sent straight to your inbox.