Chipotle Mexican Grill was founded by Steve Ells in 1993 and based in Denver, Colorado. The name Chipotle derives from the Mexican Spanish name for a smoked, dried jalapeņo chili pepper. Founder Steve Ells attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York; afterward, he became a line cook for Jeremiah Tower at Stars in San Francisco, California. In 1993, Ells took what he learned in San Francisco and opened the first Chipotle in Denver, Colorado, near the University of Denver campus using an $85,000 loan from his father. Ells and his father calculated that the store would need to sell 107 burritos per day in order to be profitable; however, after one month, the original restaurant was selling over 1,000 burritos a day. Ells had originally planned to use funds from the first Chipotle in order to open a fine-dining restaurant, but instead focused on Chipotle Mexican Grill when the restaurants saw success.
In 1998, McDonald's made an initial minority investment in the company. By 2001, the company had grown to be Chipotle's largest investor. McDonald's' investment allowed the firm to quickly expand, from 16 restaurants in 1998 to over 500 by 2005. In October 2006, McDonald's fully divested from Chipotle. This was part of a larger initiative for McDonald's to divest all of its non-core business restaurants - Chipotle, Donato's Pizza, and Boston Market - so that it could squarely focus on the main McDonald's chain.
In a list of fastest-growing companies in 2009, Chipotle was ranked eighth, based on increases in U.S. sales over the past year. As of April 2010, 976 restaurants have since opened throughout the United States and Canada.