What a drag it must be to wake up every day as the public relations guy for Chipotle Mexican Grill. Seriously, consumers to the left of you, media to the right, and there you are — stuck in the middle with Steve Ells and the burrito bunch. beach-beatFor almost a year now the Denver-based fast food chain has been struggling with the stuff of PR nightmares, beginning with a string of six foodborne illness outbreaks across the country that developed into plummeting sales and stock declines that are yet to rebound. Then the lawsuits started coming. Victims infected with Salmonella, E. coli and norovirus got representation. So did stockholders. Earlier this week yet another action hit the federal court system. Sean Gubricky filed a shareholder derivative complaint in U.S. District Court in Denver, demanding a jury trial and seeking reform of Chipotle’s “corporate governance and internal procedures to comply with applicable laws and protect the company and its shareholders from a recurrence of the events described herein…” Even though parts of Gubricky’s of complaint are blacked out in the name of trade secrets and corporate confidentiality, it’s easy to see the allegations of mismanagement and lapses in judgement against founder and co-CEO Ells and the burrito bunch. In plain language, the complaint contends that Ells and the gang should have known how to make sure food served at the chain’s 1,900-plus restaurants wouldn’t poison customers. The civil suit also contends executives and directors failed to meet their job responsibilities and violated the Chipotle ethics code by allowing conditions and practices to occur that lead to the outbreaks and subsequent devaluation of the company. Defendants named in the shareholder complaint in addition to Ells are:

  • Monty Moran, co-CEO and secretary;
  • Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing officer — yes, he’s the one facing cocaine charges;
  • John Charlesworth, director;
  • Kimbal Musk, director ;
  • Patrick Flynn, director — no relation to Food Safety News Editor in Chief Dan Flynn;
  • Stephen Gillett, director;
  • Albert Baldocchi, director;
  • Darlene Friedman, director; and
  • Neil Flanzraich, director.

No doubt the latest court action had Chipotle’s PR guy reaching for an adult beverage or a roll of antacid tablets. But really, when it comes down to it, the stockholder cases probably don’t keep him awake at night. It’s just a lot of paperwork and billable hours for the legal staff to handle. The PR guy likely isn’t losing too much sleep, either, about the $550,000 award in recent days to a former Chipotle employee who a jury says the corporation discriminated against because she was pregnant. That’s what insurance is for, right? Tasty Made vs Tasty BurgerAnd the six-restaurant Boston burger chain “Tasty Burger” probably isn’t causing too much concern with its charges that Chipotle has stolen its concept and branding for the planned “Tasty Made” burger chain. The burrito bunch no doubt believes its deep pockets can handle the situation, based on this week’s statement from Chipotle’s PR guy. “We fully intend to move forward with the name Tasty Made for our burger restaurant and strongly believe that we are on solid footing in doing so,” according to a statement from Chipotle’s PR guy. “United States Patent and Trademark Office refused to register a trademark for Tasty Burger because it is merely descriptive and not enforceable. Beyond that, we believe there is sufficient difference between the names and logo marks so as not to cause consumer confusion, and we believe both brands can co-exist.” So maybe he doesn’t need my condolences. Maybe Chipotle’s PR guy and the rest of the burrito bunch get a solid eight every night. They are the “food with integrity” people, after all. But what about the Whopperrito? Bloomberg reports Burger King is set to roll out the new menu item next week. If that’s not enough to keep you up at night, check your pulse. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)