Wall Street Journal magazine announced today that it will recognize Steve Ells, founder and CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, as the year's top innovator in the food industry. The magazine cited Ell's "dedication to sustainability, reinventing fast food and changing the way America eats" in its announcement.
Jonathan Safran Foer, bestselling novelist-turned-organic and vegetarian food advocate, will present him the award at a dinner at the Museum of Modern Art this Thursday, October 27th.
Ells opened the first Chipotle in Denver in 1993, three years after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. Since then, he's made serious changes to the brand. McDonald's invested in the '90s, helping the company open many of the 1000 stores that it runs today. The sustainability initiatives cited in the WSJ Magazine award began about 10 years ago; they have made Chipotle the country's biggest vendor of naturally-raised and sustainable meat.
WSJ may have chosen to honor Ells this year because it's been a particularly innovative one for his company. Since 2011 began, Chipotle has hired talented James Beard award-winner Nate Appleman as its culinary manager, started to add healthier items to many of its outposts and launched an Asian spin-off brand called ShopHouse. And it's not like the magazine is the first party to recognize Ells's outsized contributions to the company's success. According to Forbes, the Chipotle CEO earned a cool $15 million in total compensation in 2010.