A Tested Recipe: Five Ingredients

Five lessons for start-ups from Chipotle Mexican Grill.

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It's the food, stupid. Its hip surroundings and green ethic notwithstanding, Chipotle succeeds because its food tastes better than the competition's. Customers pay an average of about $9 for the privilege.

Keep it simple! With just three menu items, Chipotle takes advantage of a straightforward production process that keeps costs low.

Fast is still important. As good as Chipotle's burritos taste, customers won't line up for them if the line doesn't move quickly. And now they can preorder their food online.

There's always room for improvement. Chipotle upgrades ingredients and processes. Example: ceo Steve Ells found that salsa tastes better when onions are cut by hand instead of by machine.

Embrace your "enemy." Ells shrugged off investment bankers and venture capitalists in favor of McDonald's to grow the business. The chain helped with purchasing and distribution, too.