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A food safety crisis takes its toll.
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara
The norovirus crisis continues to take its toll.
FOUNDER OUT

Chipotle’s embattled CEO is the latest victim of its food-safety nightmare

By Chase Purdy

The beleaguered CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill is stepping down. The decision comes after nearly two years spent trying—unsuccessfully—to restore the chain’s reputation after a withering 2015 food-safety crisis.

Steve Ells, founder of the company that has grown to include more than 2,300 US locations, is set to step down as soon as its board finds a replacement. He will continue as executive chairman.

The once-irreproachable brand—known for its ad campaigns that blasted factory farming—lost its footing in late 2015 after a norovirus outbreak sickened more than 300 customers across 14 states, hospitalizing 22. The event shattered consumer trust and sent the company on a long and arduous journey to regain its place in the hyper-competitive fast-casual market. Chipotle has attempted to reshape its image in many ways, including:

Still, none of it was enough to save Ells, who has led Chipotle ever since he started it in 1993. The board announced today (Nov. 29) it was launching a search for a replacement.

“Simply put, we need to execute better to ensure our future success,” Ells said in a statement. “Bringing in a new CEO is the right thing to do for all our stakeholders.”

Some industry analysts, have been calling for Ells to step out of his CEO role for more than a year. In July 2017, after the company was hit with another case of norovirus, analyst Howard Penney told Quartz that if that food- safety relapse wasn’t the “death blow” for Ells, it was getting close. Four months later, he company  is making that move.