STEVE ELLS is putting his money where his mouth is. As the creator behind a successful restaurant venture, Chipotle (with over 1,000 restaurants in the U.S.), Ells partnered with other notable chefs to create America’s Next Great Restaurant. In our conversation, Ells dished about the concept of the show and his reason for backing it.
From Emmy Award-winning producers Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz of Magical Elves (“Top Chef” and “Project Runway”) comes “America’s Next Great Restaurant.” In this delectable new alternative series, people from every walk of life will vie for the opportunity of a lifetime to see their original restaurant concept spring to life — starting with the opening of a restaurant chain in three locations — Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York City.
Funding the restaurant concepts are four accredited investors: Bobby Flay, distinguished restaurateur (“Iron Chef America: The Series,” “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay”); Curtis Stone, internationally renowned chef (NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” “Take Home Chef”); Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle; and Lorena Garcia, executive chef and restaurateur.
Flay, Stone, Ells and Garcia not only serve as investors who put their money into the winning restaurant idea, but they also serve as mentors. They will be working side by side with the competitors to further develop their concepts and put each competitor’s restaurant concept through rigorous business and cooking challenges to determine which idea has what it takes to become America’s next great restaurant.
After a nationwide search, the top 21 competitors will present their restaurant concepts to the investors and 11 will be quickly eliminated — leaving the top ten competitors to battle it out over the course of the season. The investors will determine which competitor’s concept has the greatest potential for success, and those who do not rise to the challenge will be sent home.
In the final episode, someone will fully savor his/her great American dream of launching his/her own restaurant chain, and viewers will have the opportunity to experience it for themselves.
“America’s Next Great Restaurant” is produced by the Emmy Award-winning Magical Elves. Dan Cutforth, Jane Lipsitz, Ross Jacobson, Nan Strait and Amy Chacon serve as executive producers. Casey Kriley and Gayle Gawlowski serve as co-executive producers.
America’s Next Great Restaurant premieres on NBC Sunday, March 6 from 8:00 to 9:00 pm Eastern.
What makes a really great restaurant?
Steve Ells: Well we’re looking for America’s next great restaurant in a fast, casual format. And when we think about fast casual restaurants we think about a restaurant that’s accessible to people like fast food. So – but a price point that’s not much more than fast food and service that’s very quick. But we’re looking for a concept that elevates the typical fast food experience. And if I look at my experience with Chipotle we’ve elevated our offering in a couple of ways. First of all we seek to use – we seek out the very best quality, sustainably raised ingredients, ingredients that are normally found in high end restaurants or high end groceries and making these kinds of ingredients available for everybody in a very convenient format. And secondly we want to higher crew or a (unintelligible) staff that is empowered, one that will help develop a culture of high performance so that we can again elevate our restaurant experience from the typical fast food experience. And so I think we were looking in our contestants for qualities that would enable them to duplicate this kind of experience, to create an environment and food that’s relevant to people, something that people will enjoy eating, but that is elevated above the typical fast food offering.
Can you explain why you decided to back it?
Steve Ells: It’s interesting on the first episode as the contestants were pitching their ideas it took me back. It took me back, over 18 years ago as I was describing the idea for Chipotle. I was in their shoes over 18 years ago. And I know how it felt. I had this idea. And most people I talked to about this idea gave me all the reasons why it was the wrong thing to do. But I was very very persistent. And I learned a lot over the years after opening the first restaurant. And now we have over 1,000 restaurants. And so, having been involved in taking something from just an idea and maybe even an idea that’s not thought to be such a great one and turning it into a success has been exciting. And so to be able to share that experience with these contestants was really a pleasure. What I really got out of it was my ability to convey what I think has contributed to Chipotle’s success. And hopefully that helps them think about forming and formalizing and finalizing and putting together all the details of their own concepts to make it a success. And then to be able to work with Bobby and Lorena and Curtis on this and just be this really dynamic team that’s really rooting for these concepts was a pleasure. It was really a lot of fun and a lot of hard work of course but quite rewarding. We saw some really fascinating people develop their concepts and develop – and really they developed themselves I think and really showed us that they have the ability to think critically and admit their weaknesses and show their strengths. It was a fun process. And I think the viewers are really going to get a sense of that and really going to be attached to a lot of these ideas and a lot of the contestants. They’re very interesting people.
Would you say that the mentoring aspect of the show will set you apart from the other restaurant shows out there?
Steve Ells: I think that’s part of the brilliance of the show. I think that because we are investors we have this vested interest in making sure that the person who wins really is going to be successful as opposed to a reality show where there’s a prize and then that’s it. This is an ongoing prize. And really the winner wins more than just these three restaurants. They win the ability to continue to grow this business and turn it into something that could be quite large and quite valuable. So this is – the magnitude of what’s at stake here I think makes this a really different show.