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Tabassum Zalotrawala to lead McDonald's U.S. development

The former CDO for Chipotle will join the fast-food chain's senior leadership team as part of growth acceleration strategy.
McDonald's New York City Times Square
McDonald's ended 2022 with 13,444 U.S. restaurants, showing growth for the first time in eight years./Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Tabassum Zalotrawala, who posted her decision to step down as chief development officer for Chipotle Mexican Grill this week, has jumped to McDonald’s.

The Chicago-based fast-food chain on Wednesday announced Zalotrawala has been named senior vice president and U.S. chief development officer, effective April 24. She will relocate to Chicago with her family, and will report to McDonald’s USA President Joe Erlinger.

In a letter to the U.S. system, Erlinger said the position has been elevated to the U.S. senior leadership team as the chain prioritizes development with an “Accelerating the Arches” strategy, first outlined in 2020.

That plan has evolved to include efforts to drive growth with a focus on menu, operations and the “3D” channels of digital, delivery and drive thru. But the strategy adds a fourth “D” with an initiative to speed the pace of domestic development in major markets.

McDonald’s ended 2022 with 13,444 restaurants, six more units than it had in the prior year. It was the first time since 2014 the company had shown net new unit growth, and officials said the chain’s strong comp and brand performance were indicators that it was time to push the gas on development.

That push includes the potential of new restaurant formats, like a separate drive-thru lane for digital order pickup, which is being tested in Fort Worth, Texas.

Tabassum Zalotrawala

Tabassum Zalotrawala/Photo courtesy of McDonald's.

Zalotrawala’s work with the development team at Chipotle over the past 4.5 years has included a similar effort, as the 3,187-unit fast-casual chain pushes to reach 7,000 units across North America. Roughly 750 restaurants opened during her time with Chipotle, including 550 drive-thru locations dubbed Chipotlanes, which are expected to be the primary format going forward.

Chipotle has also been testing what Zalotrawala liked to call a “menu of venues,” including digital-only restaurants without dining rooms, and the addition of walk-up pickup windows.

Before joining Chipotle, Zalotrawala held leadership positions in development at Panda Restaurant Group and Arby’s Restaurant Group.

“Tabassum is a values-based leader and is committed to growing the business while providing opportunities for the betterment of people, customers and communities,” Erlinger said in his letter. “Her development experience is matched by her extensive education, with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts and completion of the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program. While working in development, she quickly realized how a career in the food service sector provided an opportunity to scale the influence of her work and aligned with her values—allowing her to create spaces for tens of thousands of guests, support small business owners and create thousands of new jobs each year.”

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