Chipotle founder Steve Ells recently tapped longtime food delivery industry executive Stephen Goldstein as president of his new plant-based, automated fast food startup Kernel, The Post has learned.
Goldstein started Sept. 5 and reports directly to Ells, a source familiar with the situation said.
Goldstein will play a key role in overseeing the startup’s operations ahead of the planned opening of the first Kernel store, scheduled to open in the fall at a Park Avenue South location, the source added.
Before joining Kernel, Goldstein served for less than a year as chief operating officer of Wonder, the high-end grocery delivery company backed by billionaire Marc Lore. He also previously held several positions at UK-based food delivery app Deliveroo and at Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Popeyes and Tim Hortons.
Goldstein’s expertise in digital operations and food delivery logistics will be beneficial to Kernel. As The Post first reported in May, Ells’ startup will rely on robotic kitchens and automation to prepare 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 very pleased that Stephen Goldstein is joining Kernel as our president,” Ells said in a statement to The Post.
“During our search process, he immediately stood out as a unique operator based on his experience leading large restaurant operations, global technology teams and international trade organizations. We are all honored that he has chosen to join our team,” Ells added.
The stores operate with just three employees, with robotic arms and other equipment doing most of the heavy lifting. Early models of Kernel’s kitchen featured compact employee workstations flanked by a series of computer screens, slots and slides that formed an efficient assembly line.
The startup previously sought 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 in a central location and then sent to storefronts for final preparation and assembly.
Goldstein joins a list of executives hired by Ells that includes veterans from Goldman Sachs, Apple, Eleven Madison Park, GoPuff, Mirror and Amazon, a spokesman previously said.
Prior to its launch, Kernel closed a $36 million Series A funding round in August. The startup’s investors include Raga Partners, Willoughby Capital, Rethink Food and Virtru.
Aside from traditional brick-and-mortar stores, Kernel is exploring the possibility of licensing its kitchen operating system to other companies.
Kernel’s debut will mark a highly anticipated return to the quick-service restaurant industry for Ells, who built a fortune by transforming Chipotle from a single Denver restaurant into a national giant with more than 2,600 restaurants.
Ells ultimately resigned as Chipotle’s CEO in 2017 after a series of foodborne illness outbreaks at his restaurants, and stepped down as chairman in 2020.
Chipotle has built a large following through clever marketing and popular menu items like burrito bowls, as well as an emphasis on fresh, sustainable ingredients.