Cafe Society

Chipotle CEO Monty Moran talks immigration reform in the Wall Street Journal

A year ago, news broke that home-grown burrito chain Chipotle was being scrutinized by the feds surrounding the company's hiring of illegal immigrants, and that hundreds of employees would be laid off in Minnesota as a result. A few months later, the same fate would befall Chipotle's outlets in Washington, D.C., where the government identified scores of workers without proper documentation.

Even then, as protesters lined up to berate Chipotle for what they viewed as unfair treatment of immigrants, the company was articulate about where it stood. "Let me be clear, if it were up to us, we would keep all these people," Chris Arnold, director of public relations at Chipotle, said at the time. "They're dedicated, hardworking people who have been with us for years. But under the law, we can't employ them."

CEO Monty Moran isn't satisfied with that answer anymore.

Since the company was forced to fire hundreds of workers in Minnesota, Virginia and D.C., Moran has become an advocate for immigration reform, meeting with members of Congress from Colorado, New York, Texas and California in an effort to overhaul the system.

"These guys need to know what is going on," Moran told the Wall Street Journal. "Immigration is really messed up." A strong immigrant workforce is key to the success of the rapidly growing company, he explained; Chipotle employs 30,000 people nationwide, half of whom are Latinos.

Since the immigration audits, turnover in the restaurants has climbed, and so has the amount of resources devoted to hiring, since restaurants now have to vet an average of thirty to forty applications for one position when previously managers had only looked at about ten.

Moran's message to politicians is that the company can't keep its staff full if it can't hire immigrants. So he wants an alternative solution that will allow them to work legally and permanently, rising through the ranks at Chipotle into leadership positions. Something similar to temporary work permits for workers in the agricultural sectors won't work, he told the Journal: He wants more. And he wants lawmakers to figure it out quickly, since the company added 145 restaurants to its portfolio this year, and plans to follow up with 165 new outposts in 2012.

"We've got a business to run and need great people," he said. "It's always been our job to build the business up with the foundation of the very best people we can find. Period."

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk