Chipotle founder Steve Ells recently tapped longtime food delivery industry executive Stephen Goldstein to serve as president of his new plant-based, automated fast-food startup Kernel, The Post has learned.
Goldstein started on Sept. 5 and reports directly to Ells, a source with knowledge of the situation said.
Goldstein will play a key role overseeing the startup’s operations ahead of the planned launch of Kernel’s first store, which is on track to open this fall at a location on Park Avenue South, the source added.
Prior to joining Kernel, Goldstein served for less than a year as chief operating officer of Wonder, the high-end food delivery firm backed by billionaire Marc Lore. Previously, he also held multiple roles at the UK-based grocery delivery app Deliveroo and at Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Popeyes and Tim Hortons.
Goldstein’s expertise with digital operations and food delivery logistics will come in handy for Kernel. As The Post was first to report in May, Ells’ startup will rely on robot-powered kitchens and automation to crank out a diverse menu ranging from plant-based burgers and “chicken” sandwiches to acai bowls and salads.
When reached for comment, Ells confirmed Goldstein’s hiring.
“I am thrilled to have Stephen Goldstein join Kernel as our president,” Ells said in a statement to The Post.
“He immediately distinguished himself during our search process as a unique operator given his experience running large-scale restaurant operations, global technology teams, and international commercial organizations. We all feel honored he decided to join our team,” Ells added.
Stores will operate with as few as three employees, with robotic arms and other gadgets handling most of the heavy lifting. Early mock-ups of Kernel’s kitchen showed compact employee workstations flanked by an array of computer screens, slots and chutes that form an efficient assembly line.
The startup was previously eyeing locations in lower Manhattan for its first brick-and-mortar location.
Like many high-end fast food chains, Kernel will use a hub-and-spoke model, where the majority of food is prepared at a central location and then sent to storefronts for final preparation and assembly.
Goldstein joins a roster of executives hired by Ells that include veterans of Goldman Sachs, Apple, Eleven Madison Park, GoPuff, Mirror and Amazon, a spokesperson previously said.
Ahead of its launch, Kernel closed a $36 million Series A fundraising round in August. The startup’s investors include Raga Partners, Willoughby Capital, Rethink Food and Virtru.
Aside from traditional storefronts, Kernel is exploring the possibility of licensing its kitchen operating system to other businesses.
Kernel’s debut will mark a highly-anticipated return to the quick-service food industry for Ells, who built a fortune by transforming Chipotle from a single Denver restaurant into a nationwide behemoth with more than 2,600 restaurants.
Ells eventually stepped down as Chipotle’s CEO in 2017 after a series of foodborne illness outbreaks at its restaurants and exited as chairman of the board in 2020.
Chipotle has built a huge following through clever marketing and popular menu items such as burrito bowls and an emphasis on fresh, sustainable ingredients.