You could not buy lunch at a Chipotle Mexican Grill on Monday. The company closed all of its restaurants for a few hours to hold staff meetings on food safety guidelines in the wake of several food poisoning outbreaks. The company is offering a "raincheck," but temporary shutdown had rivals offering coupons to customers.
Chipotle employees were directed to movie theaters and other sites to hear live video conferences with the two chief executives of the chain, Steve Ells and Montgomery Moran. Ells and Moran discussed their program to improve food safety at all of the restaurants in the chain. More than 50,000 employees attended the video feeds.
Ells and Moran described plans to increase vigilance over contamination of food ingredients. The plans include central processing of items such as tomatoes and bell peppers, increase testing of ingredients, and to offer paid sick leave which will help discourage sick employees from coming in to work. Chipotle will also spend about $10 million to help suppliers meet the company's new safety requirements.
The first reports of E. Coli sickness linked to Chipotle restaurants came out in November when more than 50 people in 14 states became ill. The chain was also connected to two separate outbreaks of norovirus. Because of the outbreaks, the company is the subject of a national criminal investigation.
Anyone who went to a Chipotle on Monday for lunch saw posters in the windows that offer a free burrito as a raincheck.
Moe's Southwest Grill, a rival Mexican food chain, twitted the shutdown, putting out ads with coup0ns and messages on social media that read: "We're open, especially on February 8."
Last week, Chipotle reported its first decline in quarterly same-store sales as a public company, hurt by a sharp drop in customer visits due to the outbreaks. The company's shares are down more than 30% since November.