The worst may be over for Chipotle during the coronavirus: CFO

There is no question about it: Chipotle (CMG) is navigating the current recessionary environment for restaurants big and small far better than most.

So much so — in large part by a surging digital ordering platform being used during coronavirus quarantines — that the burrito king may have seen a bottom in its business a few weeks ago.

“It’s [business] definitely improved. We hope so [a bottom was hit], it’s hard to tell because it’s so unpredictable. These are unprecedented times for sure. But we hit what looked like the bottom at a down 30% to 35% comp at the end of March. Things improved a bit into April. And then this last week, things improved quite a bit more still. So we’re down kind of in that [down] high-teens range,” Chipotle CFO Jack Hartung said on Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade.

Hartung added, “It’s hard to imagine we’re celebrating being down only high teens, but I think considering how things are going elsewhere, how other restaurants are dealing with this, we feel pretty good about that. Hopefully it either stays at this level and actually improves from here.

Chipotle shares rallied 11% in Wednesday afternoon trading.

A sign hangs in the window at Chipotle Mexican Grill, Monday, March 16, 2020, in Woodmere Village, Ohio. All bars and restaurants in Ohio will be closed until further notice, said Gov. Mike DeWine, who is taking a tough stance on trying to stem the coronavirus saying “if we don’t take these actions now, it’ll be too late.” (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

On Tuesday evening, Chipotle reported first quarter earnings of $3.08 a share versus analyst estimates for $2.70. Same-store sales gained 3.3%, eclipsing projections for an increase of 1.8%.

Along with its fast-casual peers, Chipotle closed its dining rooms in mid-March and shifted strictly to takeout and delivery as social-distancing measures across the country kept people indoors. Digital sales during the first quarter grew 80.8% and represented approximately 26.3% of revenue. During March, digital sales grew 102.6% year-over-year and represented 37.6% of sales.

Hartung said Chipotle is hard at work trying to rethink how the inside of its restaurants will look like when they reopen for consumers. A few possible changes include hot sauce bottles being kept behind the cash register and fewer seats for diners, according to Hartung.

Yahoo Finance’s Heidi Chung contributed to this story.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and co-anchor of The First Trade at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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