Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol speaks during an interview at The Associated Press, Tuesday, June 9, 2015 in New York. - Mark Lennihan / Associated Press Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol speaks during an interview at The Associated Press, Tuesday, June 9, 2015 in New York. - Mark Lennihan / Associated Press

Chipotle’s New CEO Is Taco Bell’s Old CEO

Chipotle Mexican Grill ended its three-month period of executive limbo by naming Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol as its new chief executive.

The brand had been searching for a CEO since co-founder Steve Ells announced his impending departure in November 2017. Ells will become executive chairman. Chipotle’s stock surged immediately following the announcement, a marked turnaround from its recent performance.

In a statement, Niccol said, “I am very excited to be joining Chipotle at this pivotal time in its history. I have tremendous respect for the Chipotle brand and its powerful purpose. At Chipotle’s core is delicious food, which I will look to pair up with consistently great customer experiences. I will also focus on dialing up Chipotle’s cultural relevance through innovation in menu and digital communications. This will attract customers, return the brand to growth, deliver value for shareholders and create opportunities for employees.”

Chipotle has struggle to regain its footing after health scares, poorly performing dessert, chorizo, and melted cheese, and consecutive quarters of disappointing numbers.

Steve Ells said in a company release, “Brian is a proven world-class executive, who will bring fresh energy and leadership to drive excellence across every aspect of our business. His expertise in digital technologies, restaurant operations and branding make him a perfect fit for Chipotle as we seek to enhance our customer experience, drive sales growth and make our brand more relevant.”

Niccol had been Taco Bell CEO since January 2015 and previously served as president starting in 2013. He had also worked for Yum Brands sister company Pizza Hut in a variety of roles including chief marketing officer.

The Road Ahead

In its recent earnings call, Ells admitted that Chipotle needed a new menu hit after its recent misses, and new menu options will likely be a priority for the incoming executive. One bright spot for the floundering chain: mobile orders, which are up 50 percent year over year. Chipotle is also working to revamp its stores from dining room to prep areas, focusing on the additional business it receives from mobile.

As for Ells’s involvement, he has said he plans to let Niccol run the business. “I fully intend to have the new CEO be in charge,” he said during the recent earnings call. “So many of the candidates come from the restaurant industry. While they’ve enjoyed a lot of success they never had the kind of purpose we had at Chipotle which is exciting to all of them. It’s not lost on them that you can have both. You can have a purpose and you can have a product popular with consumers and you can have a great economic model. We need to get back on track and build momentum again.”

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