When he was laid off from a teaching job three years ago, Mike Stallone attended a job fair that Chipotle Mexican Grill  was hosting at a local hotel on New York’s Long Island. The Denver-based fast-casual chain was preparing to expand its New York presence. Stallone, a high school teacher with zero experience in running a restaurant was the last applicant of the day. Today, Stallone oversees two restaurants in the Long Island towns of Carle Place and Deer Park, and he is a member of an elite group of Chipotle general managers known as Restaurateurs. Currently, there are about 112 in the nearly 800-unit chain. These top-performing managers participate in a lucrative incentive program that is based on their ability to meet certain sales goals and develop their hourly employees into managers. Membership in the group must be approved by Chipotle’s co-chief executives, founder Steve Ells and Monty Moran, who created the program.
Why were you hired when you had no restaurant experience?
I told [the interviewers]: “I’m not going to waste your time. I know absolutely nothing about running a restaurant. But I do know everything about Chipotle.” I ate there every day for years when I lived in Colorado. I knew the food, I knew the menu, I knew what it looked like inside. They called me back the next day.
Were you looking to make a career change?
I don’t think I was thinking of it like that. The only reason I applied was because I knew so much about them. I didn’t think I would be where I am today. But once I got here—I’m the type of person who likes to push the envelope and try to go higher. The great thing about this company is they give you all those opportunities to excel.
There are a lot of people out looking for work today. Do you consider applicants with little restaurant experience?
Without a doubt. If a person is passionate, you can teach someone anything if they have the commitment and energy. I have employees who’ve had no restaurant training and do great, and I’ve had people who went to the [Culinary Institute of America] and it did not work out. Sometimes a career choice isn’t the right one. I went to school to become an accountant, and I may never do that in my life, although those skills still apply in my job.