Chipotle helps its smaller suppliers find access to capital

Planning to double in unit count, the fast-casual chain needs its suppliers to grow too. A unique partnership with digital platform Bridge is designed to open doors for potential financing.
Chipotle is the first restaurant chain to partner with Bridge. |Photo: Shutterstock.

Chipotle has long been a proponent of smaller suppliers, going back to early days when the company made commitments to source local produce and humanely raised meat.

This week the chain announced a unique partnership to help those smaller suppliers find financing.

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based chain on Thursday said it is partnering with the digital platform Bridge, which is kind of an aggregator of a variety of lenders for one-stop shopping for capital.

Bridge is a digital “business loan marketplace” that gives small- and medium-sized businesses access to more than 75 lenders that can provide loans up to $50 million.

Rohit Mathur, Bridge’s CEO, said the platform’s network includes all kinds of sources for capital, including minority-owned banks, community development financial institutions and others who might give loans to businesses that bigger banks won’t typically touch.

“If you’re a small or medium business or supplier, it’s hard to get access to capital,” said Mathur. “For the larger corporations, it’s easier because many banks want to come to you. But for smaller businesses, it’s just harder.”

With the partnership, neither Bridge nor Chipotle have any influence over any of the lending decisions involving those suppliers. Chipotle is not acting as a lender in this scenario.

However, the partnership gives Chipotle an opportunity to educate participating lenders about the standards it has for its suppliers, for example, and walk those lenders through the chain’s supply chain process.

That’s information those lenders can take back to their credit committees that could potentially boost the case for providing a loan, said Mathur.

In addition, with the partnership, Bridge can help educate Chipotle’s suppliers about how to prepare for seeking capital and streamline the process.

For example, Mathur said smaller businesses might be afraid to ask questions about the financing process because they’re worried it might hurt their chances for obtaining a loan. But Bridge offers webinars and other opportunities where questions can be asked anonymously, as well as help with documentation and other aspects that can be daunting for smaller operators.

Bridge has similar partnerships in the retail world, with companies like Walmart, Best Buy and Dollar General. This is the first with a restaurant company, Mathur said.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based platform was an initiative born from Citibank with the goal of “democratizing lending.” There is no fee for using the platform—Bridge’s bread and butter comes from lender fees.

For the more than 3,300-unit Chipotle, the health of its supply chain will be key as the chain pushes to more than double its unit count.

“The Bridge platform provides our suppliers with crucial access to the capital they need to expand their operations,” said Jack Hartung, Chipotle’s CFO and administrative officer, in a statement. “To achieve our long-term target of 7,000 restaurants in North America, we’ll need our partners to be able to scale and continue growing, harvesting and supplying the high-quality real ingredients that Chipotle serves.”


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