Chipotle is an iconic consumer brand that until recently stood for hip, healthy and high-quality fast food for a high-tech generation.
But lately, the Denver-based restaurant chain has been devastated by health-related problems, including a series of E. coli incidents. The once favored spot for a new generation is looking about as relevant as a Blackberry or Palm Pilot.
The latest revelations about Chipotle raise new and troubling questions about how the chain is being managed in the face of what clearly is a crisis of consumer confidence.
As reported in the current edition of the Business Times, there is now a federal criminal probe into a norovirus incident at a Simi Valley Chipotle where some 200 people were sickened.
According to reports, the management of that particular store allowed a sick employee to stay on the job and the infection became widespread.
Chipotle’s reputation has also been hurt by an outbreak of E. coli that affected at least 53 people in nine states. That was followed by a norovirus contagion at a Boston location that sickened more than 140 college students. More illnesses in three additional states were announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last month.
After the Boston outbreak and the national news coverage that followed same-store sales fell 34 percent, the company said on Jan. 6. The company’s stock declined 30 percent in 2015.
Chipotle has recently closed stores in the Pacific Northwest, reduced its earnings guidance, and vowed to do better. The senior management of Chipotle is smart, forward-focused and, until now, highly capable of managing the challenges of fast growth and food safety.
That’s why we were shocked to learn that what could be a serious breakdown in day-to-day management had taken place at a Chipotle in Ventura County. We’re hoping that the authorities and Chipotle management get to the bottom of this quickly.
Bank mergers heating up
In the first five days of the New Year, the fast-changing banking landscape in the Tri-Counties shifted once again.
New Year’s Day brought an unusual deal closing with American Riviera Bank’s acquisition of The Bank of Santa Barbara taking place just as the long holiday weekend was getting under way. The deal combines two smaller banks into one institution that’s got the size and expertise to cope with new regulatory requirements.
Then, on Jan. 5, came news that Coast National Bank of San Luis Obispo had agreed to be acquired by Bank of the Sierra. Bank of the Sierra is no stranger to the region, having acquired Santa Clara Valley Bank of Santa Paula.
Meanwhile, both Community West and Citizens Business Bank are in expansion mode in our region.
The bottom line is that it’s going to be a very active year on the banking beat.