An unanticipated success
When Steve Ells opened the very first Chipotle in Denver in 1993, he only planned to stay in the burrito business long enough to accumulate sufficient capital to launch his first fine dining restaurant.  Little did he know that by 2015, Chipotle would grow to 1,900+ stores with annual revenues of over $4.1B , revolutionizing the US restaurant industry in the process.
Having your guac and eating it too: winning with the fast casual business model
As a pioneer and emblem of the ‘fast casual’ dining segment, Chipotle has designed and executed a business model that provides customers with the best of two worlds: the speed and convenience of fast food alongside the elevated food quality found in sit-down casual restaurants.
Initially opened to compete with other fast food chains, Chipotle has always taken speed as a given in terms of customer value. Where it has deviated and excelled in comparison to its fast-food peers is through a philosophy of quality which is encapsulated in Chipotle’s current motto, “Food with Integrity.”
Specifically, Chipotle’s offerings center around fresh preparation and quality of ingredients. Most ingredients are prepared fresh daily in-store: lettuce, onions and cilantro are chopped by hand, chicken is grilled in-house and tortilla chips, rice, and guacamole are all also made fresh each day. 
Raw ingredients are held to a standard well beyond those of competitors; Chipotle has committed to GMO-free produce as well as meat/dairy from animals raised without antibiotics and artificial hormones. (In 2015, Chipotle stuck to its promise and eliminated a previous pork supplier who failed to meet standards despite a resulting nine month absence of carnitas) 
Under its fast “Food with Integrity” business model, Chipotle has experienced continuous growth while fast food giants increasingly struggle. Notably, the Chipotle business model has won over health and quality conscious consumers (particularly Millennials) who are willing to pay a significantly higher average ticket price ($11 versus $4 for McDonald’s) than for traditional fast food. 
A recipe for success: providing value through operations
How does Chipotle do both fast and high quality? The answer is a unique operating model that flies in the face of conventional fast food wisdom, both in terms of in-store and company-wide operations.
Whereas most fast food restaurants have extensive menus and rely on new menu introductions to drive sales, Chipotle’s very limited menu offers a choice of four items, all of which use virtually all the same ingredients. This significantly simplifies food production, both in preparation and assembly, reducing cycle and wait times. Additionally, consistent/limited ingredients cut down on food waste and allow greater focus on quality ingredient sourcing (more about that later!).
A central aspect of Chipotle’s operations is the assembly line, where a meal is ordered and assembled in front of and with input by the customer. Ingredients are all collected in one area and laid out in order to allow rapid assembly, with servers quickly developing skills through repetition. Visibility during assembly allows the customer to directly specify requests and reduce mistakes/re-work to keep the line moving. To further speed up the assembly line during peak hours, employees are cross-trained to handle any part of the assembly process, as well as various preparation tasks in the kitchen, and top servers are assigned to assembly duty during meal rushes. Finally, specific support roles are in place to maximize line speed including “expediters” that get drinks/bags orders and “linebackers” that refill food bins and clean counter tops to keep servers focused on assembly. The result: you get your meal in minutes.
The assembly line also creates an interactive and customized food experience, turning a relatively small set of ingredients into an estimated 65,000 possible unique meal combinations.  Visibility into and control over meal preparation supports Chipotle’s higher quality customer experience beyond just speed. The food line is so much a part of the Chipotle’s value proposition that the company was recently sued by a wheelchair disabled man who claimed that not being able to see above the counter “denied [him] the Chipotle experience.” 
Key to the success of in-store operations are Chipotle’s front-line employees. Here, Chipotle’s business model strongly supports the hiring, motivation and retention of a quality workforce (with a target being high school and college students). Specifically, premium pricing allows Chipotle to offer a full set of benefits even to hourly employees, including paid time off and tuition reimbursement. Furthermore, a culture around “Food with Integrity” also translates to a workplace environment that respects employees and clearly lays out the path towards internal advancement.
Chipotle’s supply chain also supports and is supported by its business model. In similar fashion to its generous labor benefits, Chipotle is able to pay a premium to suppliers to ensure that raw ingredients meet high quality standards. In addition to higher prices, suppliers are supported by guaranteed demand as Chipotle continues to expand. As it further focuses on “Food with Integrity”, Chipotle has increased local sourcing (defined as ingredients sourced within 350 miles of the receiving store) which is expected to further elevate the company’s mission.
Another unusual feature of Chipotle’s broader operating model compared to competitors is that every one of Chipotle’s stores is owned and not franchised. This enables the company to maintain much stricter controls over operations and corporate culture to ensure that “Food with Integrity” is equally realized across each and every store.
That’s a wrap
It’s clear that Ells has found a winning combination in Chipotle, with a business and operating model that reinforce and elevate one another. As it approaches its 13th year and 2000th store opening, Chipotle will continue to lead the fast casual movement to the delight of investors and lunch-goers alike.
 Fortune: “Chipotle- Rise of a fast food empire”. http://archive.fortune.com/2010/10/06/smallbusiness/chipotle_started.fortune/index.htm
 Business Insider: “Here’s which Chipotle ingredients are prepared fresh in restaurants” http://www.businessinsider.com/chipotle-address-food-preparation-2015-2
 Forbes: “How the fast casual segment is gaining market share in the restaurant industry”. http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2014/06/23/how-the-fast-casual-segment-is-gaining-market-share-in-the-restaurant-industry/
 Business Insider: “Chipotle says you can order 65,000 menu combinations”. http://www.businessinsider.com/how-many-combinations-can-you-order-at-chipotle-2013-7
 Washington Times: “Chipotle in violation of disabilities act”. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/aug/1/chipotle-in-violation-of-disabilities-act/?page=all