Denver-based Chipotle hires new CEO from Taco Bell

DENVER — Chipotle just nabbed Taco Bell’s top executive.

Denver-based Chipotle announced Tuesday that Brian Niccol — who has headed Yum Brands’s Taco Bell division since January 2015 — will take over as Chipotle’s CEO on March 5.

Current chief executive Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder, will stay on as executive chairman.

Ells said in a statement that Niccol would bring “expertise in digital technologies, restaurant operations and branding” to the embattled burrito chain “as we seek to enhance our customer experience, drive sales growth and make our brand more relevant.”

Chipotle was a breakout success in its early days, in large part because it promised to be a healthier way to get a Tex-Mex fix as American consumers became more health conscious.

But recently, the brand has struggled to win back customer trust after a series of food safety scandals.

Chipotle credited Niccol with boosting Taco Bell’s popularity.

“Under his leadership, he successfully repositioned Taco Bell as a lifestyle brand and successfully launched numerous product initiatives, including the new breakfast daypart, the fastest growing daypart in the industry,” the company said.

Chipotle’s release also points out Taco Bell’s social media savvy — it has 1.9 million Twitter followers compared to Chipotle’s 882,000 — indicating that’s another area where Chipotle is looking to improve.

Investors appeared to be pleased with Chipotle’s selection. The restaurant chain’s stock was up by more than 11 percent during after-hours trading Tuesday.

Yum Brands said Taco Bell will be run by Julie Felss Masino and Liz Williams, who are the presidents of Taco Bell North American and Taco Bell International. They’ll report directly to Yum Brands CEO Greg Creed.