Chipotle Initiates Search for New CEO as Steve Ells Steps Down 

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Steve Ells, the founder and mastermind behind the fast casual that started it all, Chipotle, announced on Wednesday that he is stepping down as the CEO of the chain.

However, he will be stepping into the executive chairman role. 

This seems like the chain's latest move as part of its comeback strategy. 

Chipotle has been plagued with a series of PR nightmares following a few food safety scandals that were exposed starting back in November 2015. 

It's no secret, the brand has had difficulty recovering. 

The company reported a 29.7% decrease in same-store sales in the first quarter of 2016, following the media frenzy after the first food safety crisis.

Chipotle's shares were up but 4.4% early Wednesday, according to the "New York Post."

But with stock prices no where close to where they were before the crisis, the brand has launched multiple free giveaway campaigns in attempt to recreate the long lines of the past at Chipotle stores.

But, investors have demanded big changes and it looks like Ells has decided to bring in a new CEO to direct the brand's comeback efforts. 

Ells' stressed that this was the best thing to do for Chipotle's investors, but he won't be leaving executive team. Instead, he will be focusing efforts elsewhere. 

“Bringing in a new CEO is the right thing to do for all our stakeholders. It will allow me to focus on my strengths, which include bringing innovation to the way we source and prepare our food. It will ultimately improve our ability to provide our guests with delicious food that is prepared with high quality ingredients that are raised responsibly and served in a way that is accessible to everyone. I am confident that this will allow us to deliver value for our shareholders, and provide rewarding opportunities for our employees," said Ells in a press release. "Chipotle has vast unrealized potential. As we work hard to restore our brand, I believe we can capitalize on opportunities, including in areas such as the digital experience, menu innovation, delivery, catering, and domestic and international expansion, to deliver significant growth."

The Chipotle board of directors agrees with Ells' decision and think its time to bring in a change agent as a CEO. 

“Steve is a visionary leader and one of the most successful restaurateurs in history, having grown Chipotle from a single restaurant in Colorado to more than 2,350 restaurants today. Steve made the decision, and the Board agreed, that now is the right time to identify a new CEO who can reinvigorate the brand and help the company achieve its potential. We are committed to recruiting a world-class CEO for this incredible opportunity," said Neil W. Flanzraich, the lead independent director at the company. 

It's likely the brand is already talking to some potential suitors for the coveted CEO position. Ells said that the company is looking for an "experienced leader." 

“Simply put, we need to execute better to ensure our future success. The Board and I are committed to bringing in an experienced leader with a passion for driving excellence across every aspect of our business, including the customer experience, operations, marketing, technology, food safety, and training," said Ells in a press release. 

The new CEO will have quite the challenge on his or her hands. 

Do you think this is one of the steps the company needs to take to recover? 

Stay tuned for Foodable's coverage when a CEO is officially selected.