Chipotle plans to open 200 stores in 2021, CEO says, as digital sales spike

  • "We plan on opening 200 and hopefully more than 200 restaurants in 2021, which would be, you know, a real exciting thing for us to return back to 200-plus openings," Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol told CNBC's Jim Cramer on Tuesday.
  • The comments came after the company posted mixed results from the fourth quarter.
  • Chipotle also plans to hire an additional 15,000 employees.

Chipotle is forging ahead with plans to open hundreds of new restaurants this year, bucking the constraints and challenges that have led to countless closures in the industry during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brian Niccol, the chief executive of the fast-casual chain, reiterated those plans in a post-market appearance on CNBC on Tuesday. The plans coincide with the company's growing dependence on digital orders.

"We plan on opening 200 and hopefully more than 200 restaurants in 2021, which would be, you know, a real exciting thing for us to return back to 200-plus openings," he told "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer in an interview.

The comments came after Chipotle posted results from the fourth quarter after the close. The planned store openings would bring Chipotle's store count to nearly 2,000 locations and would mark the first time since 2016 that the company added more than 200 stores in a single year.

Chipotle added at least 130 new stores to its roster annually over the last five years, including 161 last year.

"We just did a real coast-to-coast hiring push where we're looking for 15,000 new employees," said Niccol, referring to a plan announced in January. The company currently has a head count of 83,000, according to FactSet.

Chipotle's growth story is an outlier from the state of the restaurant industry nationwide as diners and restaurateurs struggle to draw customers due to coronavirus restrictions and social distancing practices. More than 110,000 eateries have shut down either permanently or for the foreseeable future, according to the National Restaurant Association.

With indoor dining and capacity limits remaining in place in restaurants across the country, Chipotle has turned to other means of serving customers. Online orders were a key part of Chipotle's ability to grow same-store sales by 5% in the fourth quarter, when it met Wall Street expectations on the revenue line.

Chipotle recorded $1.61 billion of revenue in the three-month quarter that ended Dec. 31, though its earnings per share of $3.48 fell 25 cents short of analyst estimates. The company grew revenue by more than 11.6% in the quarter.

Chipotle posted full-year revenue of $6 billion, up 7% from 2019. Online sales spiked 174% and made up 46% of the company's business.

Delivery made up about half of Chipotle's digital orders in the fourth quarter.

"One of the things we said to ourselves in 2020 was we wanted to make sure that we pivoted to the digital channel," Niccol said. "I think we've done a nice job of capturing that delivery business."

Shares of Chipotle climbed nearly 1% to $1,523.05 in Tuesday's session, though the stock was down more than 3% in after-hours trading.

After Chipotle stock grew more than 65% in 2020, it has increased nearly double digits since the start of 2021.

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