The calendar hasn’t been kind to Chipotle.
Exactly one month after the Mexican fast-food chain temporarily closed all of its U.S. restaurants to hold staff meetings on food safety, the ugly norovirus has reared its ugly head.
On Tuesday, a restaurant in Billerica, Massachusetts, voluntarily shut down after four workers called in sick with stomach ailments, reported Reuters. Richard Berube, Billerica’s public health director, told reporters the restaurant has been cleaned to his satisfaction and that the chain’s new food safety protocol has been followed. The store is expected to reopen on Thursday.
The employees suspected of having the virus didn’t come to work on Wednesday, said Berube. “They called in sick, so that was very fortunate." There are no reports of any customers becoming ill, he added.
Spokesman Chris Arnold emailed a statement to the media on Tuesday, which read in part: “Any employees who reported feeling ill will be tested and held out of the restaurant until they fully recover.”
A multifaceted recovery
The Denver-based chain has been struggling to repair its reputation after a series of food-safety incidents last year. There were two E.coli outbreaks that sickened about 50 people in 10 states. In addition, two separate norovirus outbreaks in Massachusetts and California had company leaders reeling from negative PR and tumbling stock prices.
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#Chioptlenorovirus heated up again on Twitter on Wednesday. The voice behind the brand’s tweets tried to keep messaging light and positive:
The public had its own ideas:
As word spread about this latest development, Chipotle’s stock prices took a hit. CRT Capital analyst Lynne Collier said in a note to clients:
We suspect that investors and consumers will be sensitive to this announcement, particularly in light of the adverse news flow over the last six months at Chipotle. The publicity around this news announcement will be another negative data-point that may affect consumer demand.
On the legal front, attorneys litigating a class-action lawsuit against Chipotle have been busy. A press release from Rosen Law Firm in New York reminded alleged victims of the Chipotle illnesses about a March 8 filing deadline and the scope of the lawsuit, alleged “false and misleading public statements.”
Once again, readers, what more can Chipotle do to recover from this latest PR crisis?