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Taco Bell Launches New Fast Casual Restaurant

Taco Bell Launches New Fast Casual Restaurant


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Think you’d never be caught dead eating a Crunchwrap at your local Taco Bell? Maybe you’d be interested in trying Taco Bell’s brand-new fast-casual concept, just announced today, called U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom, which will feature a menu of 10 “core” taco varieties, fries, and shakes. The first location will be opening this summer in Huntington Beach, Calif., and future locations plan to tap into the latter half of the new restaurant’s name, offering beer and wine for customers.

Learn more about the original Taco Bell in The Daily Meal's How Taco Bell dishes got their names (Slideshow)

"We could spend time and money trying to get these people interested in Taco Bell," but they would probably never become regular customers,” Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed told Ad Age. "We thought, maybe there's a new brand we can create to address this opportunity."

Taco Bell has said that U.S. is not a spin-off of their fast food chain, because it’s an American-inspired restaurant designed for upscale food-lovers. So that means no Dorito shells, and quesarito hybrids. Instead, according to National Restaurant News, the new chain will be offering tortilla filled odes to American regions like the “Winner, Winner,” which is comprised of Southern-style fried chicken breast with South of the Border gravy, roasted corn, pico de gallo, jalapeños, and cilantro in a flour tortilla; the “One Percenter” which will feature fresh lobster in garlic butter with red cabbage slaw and pico de gallo on crispy fry bread; and the “Brotherly Love,” with carne asada steak, grilled peppers and onions, roasted poblano queso, cotija cheese, and fresh cilantro in a flour tortilla.

The menu will also offer beer milkshakes like the “Mexican Car Bomb” with vanilla ice cream, tequila caramel sauce, chocolate flakes, and Guinness Stout.

Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi


12 Taco Concepts Spicing Up Fast Casual

When it comes to fast-casual taco concepts, established and new brands alike are growing like crazy from coast to coast. Some of these dynamic chains are breaking the molds of what a Tex-Mex taco restaurant should look like. Other chefs are drawing from their heritage, sticking to authentic recipes, and crafting menus full of classic dishes. Either way, these taco brands on the move and expanding without sacrificing the quality of their food.

Chronic Tacos

Chronic Tacos has been on an expansion trajectory for the past two years. In that time, the chain doubled in size, bringing its total to 51 locations. CEO and president of Chronic Tacos, Michael Mohammed, refined the systems and design before relaunching the franchising initiative in 2014.

“Chronic Tacos is in full momentum and we don’t see that slowing down anytime soon,” Mohammed said in a statement. “Our marketing coin is 'Live the Taco Life,' and we felt there was a real opportunity in the segment. We’re a very unique brand in that we offer very authentic food but we really embrace the creativity and uniqueness as well. Through art and music, we’re a taco shop with a bit of an edge."

Taqueria del Sol

At any one of Taqueria del Sol’s seven locations, long lines form before each opening, with guests waiting to get their hands on Chef Eddie Hernandez’s tacos, queso, and turnip greens. The Atlanta-based chain opened in 2000 and expanded to five locations throughout the city and up north into Nashville with two locations. Hernandez draws inspiration from Southern, Mexican, and Southwestern dishes to create Taqueria del Sol’s from-scratch menu. Even though Hernandez uses high-quality ingredients—one would usually find in a fine-dining establishment—food and drink prices have remained reasonable and on par with other fast-casual Mexican establishments. The core menu at Taqueria del Sol remains constant with a selection of tacos, enchiladas, and sides, but the restaurant also rotates weekly specials, featuring a taco, blue plate, chef's and seafood special.

Bubbakoo’s Burritos

When Paul Altero created a mock business plan for a class assignment at the University of Delaware in 1995, made-to-order burrito concepts were something one dreamed about. Little did Altero know this dream would become a reality a little over a decade later. Altero, along with Bill Hart, left Johnny Rockets in 2008 to open the first Bubbakoo’s Burritos on the Jersey Shore.

Today, the build-your-own burrito concept has 24 locations operating throughout New Jersey. Franchise expansion ramped up between 2017 and 2018 and Bubbakoo anticipates reaching between 100–200 stores within the next five years.

Fuzzy’s Taco Shop

The Baja-style taco joint, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, is one of the fastest growing taco franchises in the country. Fuzzy’s, which just celebrated its 17th anniversary, has grown to 144 restaurants across 12 states with an additional 17 locations in development. QSR recognized Fuzzy’s as a great opportunity for experienced operators and included it as one of the Top 6 “Best Franchise Deals by Franchisee Satisfaction.”

Fuzzy’s recently brought on industry veteran David Catalano as chief operating officer to help with the growth of the brand. “I’m excited to join a company that is already doing so many things right,” Catalano said in a statement. “I’ve been a fan of the brand for a long time and look forward to using my restaurant and hospitality experience to further the Fuzzy’s Taco Shop success story.”

Tacodeli’s founder and co-owner Roberto Espinosa’s love of food and Mexican heritage inspired him to open the restaurant in 1999. Almost two decades later, Tacodeli now has 10 locations among Austin, Houston, and Dallas. Along with tacos, Tacodeli fans love the salsa offerings at the restaurant (three of which are available at select Whole Foods). Espinosa said expansion outside of Texas is possible, as long as the company grows at a rate that doesn’t affect the positive culture surrounding Tacodeli. “At the end of the day, we can’t do any of this if we don’t have the right team,” Espinosa told QSR earlier this year.

Anna's Taqueria

Inspired by the authentic Mexican food of San Francisco’s Mission District, founder Mike Kamio opened Anna’s Taqueria in Boston in 1995 to bring this iconic style of food to the East Coast. Anna’s Taqueria founder Mike Kamio realized Boston was lacking this type of restaurant and seized the opportunity to open the Mission-style burrito restaurant. Over the past two and a half decades, the company grew and opened locations across Boston, Cambridge, Newton, and Somerville that are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. From day one, Kamio stressed the importance of fresh ingredients, authentic recipes, and expert rolling and assembly.

Torchy’s Tacos

Known for spicy, “Damn, good” tacos, Torchy’s Tacos is an Austin staple that’s grown and expanded in and out of the Lone Star state. Taking advantage of the growing popularity of street food, founder Mike Rypka started the company in a food truck. The original location closed earlier this year, but the brand is still going strong with 72 locations in Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma.

Antique Taco

Husband and wife founders Rick and Ashley Ortiz are changing the fast-casual taco game in Chicago. Across the company’s three locations, diners will find a welcoming, cozy vibe decorated with antiques. Rick’s cooking blends his Mexican heritage with Midwestern flavors to create a menu of elevated Mexican fare. Taco options include the Sweet & Spicy Chicken with chicken, yogurt, cucumber, jalapeno, pink onion, and mint, and the Potato & Poblano with potatoes, queso, chipotle crema, scallions, and potato skins. There’s also the Fried Chicken Burrito, the Antique Taco Salad, and desserts like the Horchata Milkshake and the Abuelita Poptart.

Chef Victor Albisu, a James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic, took a detour from his fine-dining career at his restaurant Del Campo in Washington, D.C. a few years ago to open a new fast-casual concept, Taco Bamba. Albisu grew up in kitchen learning from cooks across Latin America. Drawing from inspiration of his Cuban and Peruvian roots, Albisu puts his own touch on Mexican fare at Taco Bamba. Since opening, the restaurant has expanded to four locations in the D.C. area. Later this year, another location is expected to open in Fairfax, Virginia. Earlier this year, Albisu decided to close Del Campo and transform the space into two new concepts. The former Del Campo space now houses Taco Bamba, which is open all day, and Poca Madre, a high-end Mexican restaurant.

The fast-casual burrito brand currently operates five Houston-area locations and one Phoenix store. Earlier this year, Überrito signed a Master Franchise Agreement opening the potential of 100 new franchise locations—just in Texas. This new expansion plan will boost the brands footprint in Houston, Austin, and San Antonio. Überrito’s expansion isn’t limited to the Lone Star State. In June 2017, the company launched a nationwide franchising program allowing potential franchisees to enter into single- or multi-unit deals.

Otto's Tacos

When Otto Cedeno opened New York City-based Otto’s Tacos, he wanted to bring some California flavor—flavors of his home—to the East Coast. The core menu features tacos topped with chicken, carnitas, and carne asada tacos. The menu at this taqueria can get a little weird with tacos sometimes topped with buffalo chicken or eggplant parmesan. "Almost everyone can get down with a good taco," Cedeno told QSR. "They're almost demographic-breaking, in a sense. We see every walk of life in our shops enjoying them, and that's always really attracted us to the cuisine. I'm a big fan of bringing people together." There are four locations that are currently open across New York City and if guests can’t make it into a store, all locations offer online ordering and delivery.

Velvet Taco

The Dallas-based, self-proclaimed “funky, fast-casual” restaurant uses the freshest ingredients to create interesting tacos each day. Across its 10 locations, the chain takes a multi-cultural approach when coming up with flavors. Even though it is based in Texas, this taco chain doesn’t stick to Tex-Mex flavors in its tacos. Some of the tacos diners will find on the Velvet Taco menu include: Shrimp and Grits, Cuban Pig, Spicy Tikka Chicken, and Ahi Poke. Earlier this fall, four new brunch tacos were added to the menu and are available to order all day.


Taco Bell Fuels Pipeline with Multiple 'Restaurant of the Future' Designs

The brand is creating a new 'industry-defying' prototype to reshape the drive-thru.

Taco Bell is once again reimagining what the restaurant of the future may look like.

The next iteration, which will be revealed in the coming months, is expected to push boundaries even further. The chain revealed Tuesday that franchisee Lee Engler is working with Taco Bell and experts outside the quick-service restaurant sector to build an “industry-defying” restaurant.

Engler indicated the innovative location, scheduled to debut in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, will revamp the drive-thru concept.

“As great as the drive-thru is, a fundamental flaw is bottleneck at the windows,” said Engler, CEO of Border Foods, in a statement. “Our team has set out to creatively solve for that like no one else has done before, and we’re thrilled by positive early responses to our one-of-a-kind concept.”

Development will be a major focus for Taco Bell this year, as the chain looks long-term at its next 1,000 restaurants, says Mike Grams, Taco Bell’s president and global COO. The deep portfolio will take “modernization to new levels coast to coast” and balance technology-forward and social-oriented priorities.

The journey was years in the making. In 2015, the chain introduced its urban-based Cantina store, a concept that ditched the drive-thru and leveraged the growth of metropolitan areas with alcoholic beverages, pick-up windows, open kitchens, shareable menu items, digital menuboards, communal tables, kiosks, open layouts, WiFi, and outlets.

During COVID, Taco Bell increased its commitment to innovation. To match changing dining behaviors, Taco Bell partnered with franchisee Diversified Restaurant Group to open the first drive-thru Cantina store in Danville, California. The unit includes an outdoor fire pit, game area, and full bar offerings. The franchise group also owns a Taco Bell wedding chapel in Las Vegas and a beachside location in Pacifica, California.

“I’ve been in the real estate and development business for decades,” said SG Ellison, president of Diversified Restaurant Group, in a statement. “The partnership we have with Taco Bell is unique—the brand empowers us franchisees with both autonomy and support, which has allowed my business to not just build traditional restaurants, but create destinations such as our flagship Taco Bell Cantina in Las Vegas, as well as our Cantinas in Pacifica and now Danville.”


Taco Bell Launches Fast Casual Restaurant Aimed At 'Edgy' Young Folks

Two crunchy tacos are pictured at a Taco Bell restaurant in Glendale, California April 19, 2011. Taco Bell is part of Yum! Brands, the world's largest company of system restaurants, including Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC. Yum! Brands releases earnings April 20. Photo: REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Taco Bell is launching a new chain of restaurants aimed at capturing the industry’s favorite demographic: “edgy” young professionals who have grown out of their love for fast-food restuarants.

The new chain will be called U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Tap Room, which sounds like something straight out of Fast Company Design’s “Create Your Own Hipster Logo in 6 Steps” guide. It’s a venture into the “fast casual” segment, which has gained traction in recent years as young adults seek a better option to the unhealthy fast-food restaurants they were taught to avoid as kids. It’s the No. 1 restaurant trend that research firm Technomics predicts for 2014.

“We could spend time and money trying to get these people interested in Taco Bell,” says Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed, but they probably wouldn’t become regular Taco Bell customers. “We thought maybe there’s a new brand we can create to address this opportunity.”

Taco Bell’s new chain looks like it would be at home in those towns where folks pine over craft beer and artisanal food -- and who have a little extra green in their wallets.

The U.S. Taco Company and Urban Tap Room will serve up 10 different kinds of $4 tacos, milkshakes, and craft beer, as well as the measure of any good restaurant: thick-cut fries. Taco Bell execs say the restaurant is “American-inspired,” as opposed to Taco Bell being “Mexican-inspired.” Among other sources, the folks behind the new venture sought inspiration for their menu from the increasingly popular food-truck scene.

Tacos come with names like Winner Winner, built around a fried chicken breast, roasted corn, “South of the Border” gravy, jalepenos and more the One-Percenter, with Lobster, garlic butter, red slaw, and pico de gallo and the Brotherly Love, a Southwestern spin on the Philly Cheesesteak. Customers can expect to spend around $12 on a meal.

As far as the actual restaurant, it’s color scheme is inspired by the rich colors of the Day of the Dead festival: aqua, pink, soft blue and yellow. The logo is distinctly Muerte too: a pink, stylized candy skull that would fit perfectly into a 25-year-old Brooklynite’s Mexican-inspired half-sleeve tattoo.

Like many others, Taco Bell is keen on improving its success through social media. “Everyone in the U.S. has become a foodie,” says Jeff Jenkins, senior brand manager for Taco Bell. “The first thing young people do in a restaurant is take out their camera and take a picture of their food — and post it on Instagram.

Taco Bell isn’t exactly the kind of fare many would consider worthy for Instagram, but the folks at Taco Bell think U.S. Taco is.

Some folks are skeptical about Taco Bell’s new venture, saying that it is “unself-aware.” They say it won’t be able to bring in the demographic it looks to market to, precisely because that demographic doesn’t like being marketed to, although that hasn’t stopped companies from successfully doing it.

It’s a risky move: one that could backfire or bring Taco Bell a whole mess of new customers and the profits that come with them. Regardless, Taco Bell seems fully committed to the idea. For now, only two restaurants are planned: one in Huntington Beach, Calif., and another in Los Angeles. Taco Bell isn’t in a rush to expand further, but is hoping to do so.

"We’re going to open a restaurant and see what happens,” says Creed, “I’d love to see 1,000 or 1,500 of these, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”


Taco Bell to test U.S. Taco Co. concept: Fancier food, boozy shakes

Taco Bell plans to test a new fast-casual restaurant in Huntington Beach called U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Tap Room, slated to open in the next couple of months. Like Taco Bell, there will be tacos on the menu, but that’s about as similar as the two concepts get.

The menu at U.S. Taco Co. features fancier, fusion-style tacos, but don’t expect to see any Doritos shells. There’s a spin on the Philly cheesesteak with a “Brotherly Love” taco made with a flour tortilla, carne asada steak, grilled peppers and onions, roasted poblano queso, cotija cheese and cilantro and a Southern “Winner Winner” taco with a flour tortilla, home-style crispy chicken, “SOB” Southern gravy, roasted corn pico de gallo, jalapeno and cilantro.

“A year ago, we conducted an extensive study on our consumer segmentation and identified a separate consumer group that simply was not going to visit quick service restaurants, at all,” Jeff Jenkins, Taco Bell senior brand manager, said in a statement. “The result is U.S. Taco, a new concept sit-down restaurant that offers the best fusion of American-inspired flavors in tacos, fries and shakes for that emerging demographic of edgy foodies looking for a unique dining experience.”

At U.S. Taco Co., you can order fries, or loaded fries, with “papas fritas” made with habanero dust, ghost chile ketchup and roasted poblano crema and carne asada fries, made with an order of “Papas Fritas” topped with carne asada, a four-cheese blend, queso, avocado, salsa, roasted poblano queso, pico de gallo, cotija cheese and cilantro.

According to a Taco Bell representative, you can also choose your favorite taco toppings and top your loaded fries.

And to wash down your tacos, a full selection of milkshakes.

There is already a second location of U.S. Taco Co. in the Los Angeles area under development. This location will serve beer, wine and a spiked milkshake called the “Mexican Car Bomb” made with vanilla ice cream, tequila caramel sauce, chocolate flakes and Guinness stout. Taco Bell has confirmed no alcohol will be served at the Huntington Beach location because of local restrictions.

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Jenn Harris is a columnist for the Food section and host of “The Bucket List” fried chicken show. She has a BA in literary journalism from UC Irvine and an MA in journalism from USC. Follow her @Jenn_Harris_.

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What it is: a melted three-cheese blend in a flour tortilla

Note: We are unruffled by the recurrent usage of fake cheese on this menu, and ultimately can’t judge whether it’s better than, say, McDonald’s value menu. The most exciting thing on that menu might be the Jalapeño Double Burger, for the record.


Taco Bell to unveil U.S. Taco, a fast-casual taco mash-up concept

Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed, center, explains the food concept behind their new Huntington Beach restaurant, U.S. Taco Co. The restaurant will serve upscale tacos made with American favorite tastes such as “Winner, winner, fried chicken dinner” tacos. With him is the development team, from left, Max Schlutz, restaurant developer Joseph Aranda, chef Rene Pisciotti, chef and Jeff Jenkins, senior brand manager.

U.S. Taco Co. by Taco Bell sells American favorites inside tacos.

U.S. Taco Co. by Taco Bell sells American favorites inside tacos. The Italian Stallion combo plate comes with Papas Fritas with Habanero Dust and a side of Ghost Chili Ketchup and Roasted Poblano Crema. Shake: Mexican Car Bomb: Premium Vanilla Ice Cream/Tequila Caramel Sauce/Chocolate Flakes/Guinness Stout

STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Eye-catching and spicy loaded fries will be served when Taco Bell launches U.S. Taco Co. in Huntington Beach.

Restaurant developer Max Schlutz works in the background at Taco Bell's Irvine test kitchen where a "Winner, winner, fried chicken dinner" taco waits to be served. Taco Bell is soon to launch U.S. Taco Co. in Huntington Beach. The restaurant will serve upscale tacos made with American favorite tastes.

Irvine based Taco Bell is soon to launch U.S. Taco Co. in Huntington Beach. The restaurant will have house label seasonings including "Tai one on lube" sauce at right.

When it opens, Taco Bell's new U.S. Taco Co. in Huntington Beach will serve upscale tacos made with American favorite tastes like the "Italian stallion" center, and "Winner, winner, fried chicken dinner" taco at right. Also served at left are steak cut fries dusted with habanero seasoning. At right is a Mexican Car Bomb, a shake with vanilla bean ice cream, shaved semi-sweet chocolate chips, tequila-spiked caramel sauce and Guinness beer.

At Taco Bell test kitchens in Irvine, chef Joseph Aranda, left, and restaurant developer Max Schlutz craft the tacos to be served in the new U.S. Taco Co. in Huntington Beach.

The “Italian stallion,” foreground, and “Winner, winner, fried chicken dinner” tacos.

Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed, describes the taste of steak cut fries dusted with habanero seasoning. He explained the food concept behind their new Huntington Beach restaurant, U.S. Taco Co. The restaurant will serve upscale tacos made with American favorite tastes. On April 16, he offered a preview in their Irvine test kitchen.

Taco Bell's Jeff Jenkins came up with the edgy logo for the fusion of American and Mexican tacos served at their soon to be U.S. Taco Co. Although he is senior brand manager, marketing, his business card lists him as "staff disruptor."

Irvine based Taco Bell is soon to launch U.S. Taco Co. in Huntington Beach. The restaurant will serve upscale tacos made with American favorite tastes such as the "Italian stallion" in front, which is their take on a a Philly cheesesteak taco and "Winner, winner, fried chicken dinner" taco at rear.

Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed explains the food concept behind their new Huntington Beach restaurant, U.S. Taco Co. The restaurant will serve upscale tacos made with American favorite tastes such as "Winner, winner, fried chicken dinner" tacos. On April 16, he offered a preview in their Irvine test kitchen. At right is chef Rene Pisciotti.

Irvine-based Taco Bell is soon to launch U.S. Taco Co. in Huntington Beach. The restaurant will serve upscale tacos made with American favorite tastes such as a fried chicken and gravy taco called “Winner, winner, fried chicken dinner.”

First look at U.S. Taco interior

Taking the nation&rsquos reputation as a melting pot society to heart, Taco Bell is unveiling an alter-ego restaurant with a menu of American-inspired tacos and craft beer.

The Irvine-based fast-food chain is making a play for the $34 billion fast-casual space with U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom. The edgy Day of the Dead-theme brand features $4 premium tacos, spicy steak-cut fries and alcohol-infused shakes. Each taco is a twist on classic regional dishes &ndash from an East Coast lobster roll to Texas-style brisket.

U.S. Taco, opening this summer in Huntington Beach, is the first of what could be dozens across the country &ndash and the world, Taco Bell Chief Executive Greg Creed said.

&ldquoI would love one day to see 1,000 of these,&rdquo he said. &ldquoBut let&rsquos not get that far ahead of ourselves. We&rsquore opening a restaurant and seeing what happens.&rdquo

Because the menu is based on American meals, U.S. Taco won&rsquot be selling burritos, beans, rice or tortilla chips.

&ldquoThis is not a Chipotle walk-along,&rdquo said Creed, who spoke exclusively about U.S. Taco to the Register and an industry trade publication.

The core U.S. Taco menu includes a lineup of 10 tacos and daily chalkboard specials such as the Winner Winner, fried chicken lightly drizzled in &ldquoS.O.B.&rdquo (south of the border) gravy and wrapped in a soft flour tortilla. The Southern Squealer features pulled pork with peach jalapeno barbecue sauce. The Smokey & The Bandito is stuffed with Texas smoked beef brisket topped with salsa and melted Oaxacan cheese. Sides include habanero dusted steak-cut fries and shakes spiked with Guinness and tequila.

Jeff Davis, president of the food-service consulting firm Sandelman & Associates, said launching a chain from scratch is &ldquohighly risky.&rdquo

&ldquoThat being said, they&rsquore doing a lot of things right,&rdquo said Davis. &ldquoThey&rsquore building a brand based on a completely new concept in an area they have expertise in.&rdquo

Restaurant industry strategist Dennis Lombardi agreed. &ldquoCertainly it is a bold move, but it&rsquos also a very plausible strategy to test and exploit,&rdquo said Lombardi, a fast-food consultant with Ohio-based WD Partners.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

Creed said U.S. Taco is not a Taco Bell spin-off.

&ldquoTaco Bell is Mexican-inspired, and U.S. Taco is American-inspired,&rdquo Creed said while sampling a plate of &ldquoloaded&rdquo fries and a fried chicken taco at the chain&rsquos Irvine test kitchen last week.

The store design and cooking methods also differ from Taco Bell. An open kitchen allows U.S. Taco diners to see meals being cooked or grilled to order. The dining room features bright yellow, blue and red colors, wood tabletops and floors, subway tile and contemporary lighting.

Restaurant strategist Lombardi said fast-casual ventures are an attractive option for big, fast-food players because there are lower overhead costs. Stores are typically smaller and don&rsquot include drive-through lanes, and menu prices are higher.

Other legacy fast-food chains jumping on the fast-casual bandwagon include the parent company of Wienerschnitzel. Last year, Irvine-based Galardi Group debuted Two Madres Mexican Kitchen, a Chipotle-style build your own fresh-Mex meal joint in Mission Viejo. Galardi is looking to expand the concept.

&ldquoQuite frankly, I&rsquom surprised I haven&rsquot seen more of it,&rdquo Lombardi said.

A SLIGHT HICCUP OVER ALCOHOL PERMIT

The first U.S. Taco restaurant is slated to open at The Strand, a hipster-driven coastal center in downtown Huntington Beach. So far, Taco Bell has invested roughly $500,000 on the startup, Creed said.

But Surf City&rsquos stringent alcohol rules have the inaugural concept off to a slightly rocky start.

Future U.S. Taco locations will be designed to serve more than 50 types of draft and bottled craft beer. But, due to &ldquothe city&rsquos position on alcohol permits,&rdquo Taco Bell executive Jeff Jenkins said the chain chose not to include a taproom at the Huntington Beach location. The alcohol-spiked shakes are also off the table at the first store.

&ldquoEventually, we&rsquoll be looking at alcohol as a future part of the brand,&rdquo said Jenkins, senior brand manager at Taco Bell.

The booze hitch aside, Taco Bell officials are focusing on the larger task of rolling out an untested concept to the masses.

&ldquoNo one today is doing a fantastic job of taking American classics and blending them into a taco,&rdquo said Jenkins, who is overseeing the development of U.S. Taco under the title &ldquoResident Disruptor.&rdquo

Maybe not as a taco, but sandwich sensation Bruxie does it with waffles.

&ldquoIf it is a similar inspiration to what we do, then they&rsquoll be judged on how they execute and the quality of the ingredients,&rdquo said Dean Simon, co-founder of the Anaheim-based gourmet waffle sandwich chain.

FORMULATING SUCCESS IN THE TACO BELL LAB

U.S. Taco has been in the works for a year. Creed tasked Jenkins to develop a fast-casual brand that would appeal to non-Taco Bell eaters with disposable income. The biggest challenge? Creating a menu that stood out in the already crowded Mexican food segment, Jenkins said.

&ldquoHow do we zig while everyone is zagging?&rdquo he asked.

With help from consulting chef Max Schultz of Sessions Sandwiches in Newport Beach, the Taco Bell team came up with the hybrid taco concept. They took inspiration from Philadelphia&rsquos iconic cheese steaks to the South&rsquos barbecue-slathered pulled pork.

Davis, whose San Clemente-based firm specializes in fast-food market research, said food quality will be critical for survival and future growth.

&ldquoThat&rsquos the $54,000 question &ndash whether they have something that will appeal to consumers and drive loyalty. Those are yet to be seen,&rdquo he said.


First look at U.S. Taco Co., a Taco Bell side project with lobster

U.S. Taco Co., a new fast-casual taco restaurant in Huntington Beach, will open Monday. But with lobster, brisket, ghost chile ketchup and milkshakes on the menu, many will be surprised to find that the company behind the new venture is none other than Taco Bell.

After conducting a dining survey about 18 months ago with Taco Bell, Jeff Jenkins, who is heading the launch of the first U.S. Taco Co., found that a certain demographic simply won’t eat at fast food restaurants. Aiming for that group of people, who favor restaurants such as Chipotle, Jenkins and his team decided to open a fast-casual taco concept.

Taco Bell funded an eating tour of the country for Jenkins and U.S. Taco Co. executive chef Rene Pisciotti for menu research. The two decided to take their favorite, most iconic American meals and turn them into tacos. That translates to a menu of tacos inspired by Philly cheese steaks, lobster rolls from Maine, Tex Mex queso and Southern fried chicken.

“It’s American, but it just happens to be served in a taco instead of a roll or between sliced bread,” said Pisciotti, at a recent preview for the restaurant.

There are 10 6-inch tacos on the menu, including “Brotherly Love” with a flour tortilla, carne asada, housemade roasted poblano queso, grilled peppers and onions, cotija and cilantro ($3.25), the “Winner Winner” with flour tortilla, crispy chicken, housemade jalapeno Southern gravy, roasted corn pico de gallo, jalapeno and cilantro ($3.75), and “The 1% Er” with lobster, garlic butter, slaw, housemade roasted poblano crema and cilantro on a flatbread ($9.90).

In addition to the tacos there are fries and milkshakes. The fries resemble flattened steak-cut wedges, served with ghost chile ketchup, jalapeno ranch or roasted chile queso. You can also get them topped with Pisciotti’s house habanero dust or your favorite taco filling.

“It’s food truck food you don’t have to chase,” said Jenkins. “It’s playful, it’s different, it’s not about creating the next chain concept.”

There will be three shakes on the menu with rotating flavors. When the restaurant opens Monday, guests can order the “Friggin’ Fried Ice Cream” with vanilla ice cream, caramel and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, the “Choco Loco” with chocolate ice cream, Mexican-spiced chocolate sauce and chocolate flakes, and the “Shut Your Pie Hole” with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and pie crust pieces, all priced at $4.

The ingredients on the menu are a mix of housemade items, meats from various distributors around the U.S. (such as brisket flown in from Texas), and sauces and tortillas with specific recipes from Taco Bell distributors.

You can also order a selection of specialty sodas. There will be no alcohol at the Huntington Beach spot due to local restrictions, but Jenkins is already looking for a Los Angeles location. Pisciotti plans to serve beer and boozy shakes at other U.S. Taco Co. restaurants.

Jenkins says that the theme and decor of the restaurant were inspired by the Mexican holiday of Día de lost Muertos. The color scheme is neon pink, yellow, teal, turquoise and red, with painted brick, colored tiles and painted wood throughout the restaurant. A glowing sign reads “Eat Tacos” on one wall and a large Día de los Muertos-style skull greets people outside on the patio.

“I learned the holiday is a celebration of life, not death, and it’s really a food holiday,” said Jenkins. “Music is going to be pumping in here, and it’s going to be lively.”

U.S. Taco Co. will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays.

150 5th St., Huntington Beach, www.ustacos.com.

Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris

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Jenn Harris is a columnist for the Food section and host of “The Bucket List” fried chicken show. She has a BA in literary journalism from UC Irvine and an MA in journalism from USC. Follow her @Jenn_Harris_.

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Taco Bell Unveils New Restaurant Built for a Digital Future

The "Go Mobile" concept is designed to create a seamless and digitally integrated customer experience.

Add Taco Bell to the list of restaurants reimagining drive thru against a COVID-19 backdrop. The Yum! Brands chain Thursday unveiled a new concept it's labeling “Taco Bell Go Mobile.” The main hook: The unit is specifically designed for customers ordering ahead through Taco Bell’s mobile app.

Slated to open in Q1 of 2021, it features five main updates built around digital adoption.

Minimization

Like many chains in today’s pandemic climate, Taco Bell is shrinking its footprint to improve ROI and let digital transactions do the heavy lifting. The Go Mobile store is just 1,325 square feet compared to the 2,500 square feet typical Taco Bell boxes average.

Dual drive thru

Given the small footprint and reliance on mobile ordering, Taco Bell plans to double the lanes with a new priority pick-up option for consumers who order via the app. The new lane will supplement the existing, traditional lane, Taco Bell said. A better digital and drive-thru experience with additional access points.

Synchronized digital experience

Taco Bell is fitting the unit with “smart kitchen” technology integrated with its app. Namely, the Go Mobile restaurant can detect when guests arrive and suggest the quickest route for a seamless experience.

Curbside pickup

Taco Bell Go Mobile visitors will also have the option to receive their order via contactless curbside pickup—“another convenience alternative that modern consumers are looking for,” the company said.

Taco Bell Go Mobile units will roll a feature that’s quickly gaining prominence throughout quick service. In an effort to streamline the ordering experience, the store will include tablets in drive-thru lines and curbside pickup, both of which will be handled by a concierge service of employees, termed “bellhops.” Starbucks recently noted a plan to introduce handheld tablets in its drive-thru lines so employees can take orders upon arrival and boost throughput and overall perception—something Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger have deployed for years.

The first Taco Bell Go Mobile restaurant is still a few months away from opening.

“With demand for our drive-thru at an all-time high, we know adapting to meet our consumers rapidly changing needs has never been more important," Taco Bell president, global COO, Mike Grams, said in a statement. "The Taco Bell Go Mobile restaurant concept is not only an evolved physical footprint, but a completely synchronized digital experience centered around streamlining guest access points. For the first time, our guests will have the ability to choose the pick-up experience that best fits their needs, all while never leaving the comfort of their cars."

Taco Bell added it’s started to incorporate some of the upcoming model’s features into existing restaurants, although it didn’t provide further detail.

But the direction fits. In Q2, Yum! CEO David Gibbs said the brand boosted drive-thru speed of service 18 seconds, year-over-year, and served an additional 4.8 million cars. Fiscal year to date, it’s up 15 seconds.

Outside the restaurant, Taco Bell unveiled its mobile app beta loyalty program in July, which focuses on customization. Guests earn 250 points for every $25 spent to unlock rewards. Rapid reorder functions are expected down the line, along with other features aimed at frictionless ordering.

Taco Bell tacked on more than a million new users to its active e-commerce platforms through the chain’s mobile app and website this past quarter. And it also recently cut 12 items (August 13) from its menu in an effort to remove complexity and improve efficiency as safety protocols and execution become staples of today’s operating environment.

Taco Bell’s same-store sales declined 8 percent in Q2 off a 7 percent gain in the year-ago period. Temporary closures climbed as high as 500 at the end of Q1, with 100 locations reopening by mid-April. Taco Bell had 97 percent of its restaurants up by the end of this past quarter.

The brand has had to pivot perhaps more dramatically than Yum! cohorts KFC and Pizza Hut thanks to the fact close to a quarter of its business pre-COVID-19 was dine-in. Also, it boasted a thriving late-night and breakfast mix—dayparts hit significantly harder than most amid changes in our day-to-day routines, like going to work.

In response, Taco Bell shifted marketing to group bundles, contactless drive-thru, and delivery. Taco Bell anchored this with abundant value, like Cravings Boxes, Party Packs, and a new At-Home Taco Bar.

In July, with KFC and Pizza Hut U.S., Taco Bell charted into positive sales territory, leading Gibbs to call the brand Yum!’s “bright spot for the quarter.”

Pizza Hut’s domestic same-store sales climbed 5 percent in Q2. KFC’s were up 7 percent.

As a company, Yum! generated $3.5 billion in digital sales in the period, a 40 percent year-over-year boom that equated to a $1 billion step-up from 2019 levels.

Taco Bell CEO Mark King, who joined in August 2019, hinted at this model development earlier, saying Taco Bell “expects to continue development of its mobile strategy and is considering a new restaurant format that prioritizes dual drive-thru and pickup lanes and reduces the size of dining rooms.”

It lifted the lid off that projection Thursday.

Gibbs also noted previously that Taco Bell recognized the drive-thru opportunity for some time. “If you think about a Taco Bell, for example, during a lunchtime, their drive-thru lane is packed,” he said. “The only way we can increase sales at Taco Bell at lunch is to get more cars through the drive thru and shave seconds off the drive-thru time. But if you add into the equation the ability to do curbside carryout and take some of those cars out of the drive thru and put them in the parking lot in designated stalls where we can bring food to them the minute they pull onto the property because they’ve ordered it in advance, now that opens up additional capacity. “

The new model also likely slows—at least for now—the roll out of Taco Bell’s “fast social” units, which it revealed in early March. The design was intended as a revamp to the brand’s urban Cantina concept. A Time Square location was set for the fall. Another for San Ramon, California. The latter would center on gaming and allow customers the opportunity to play video games while ordering food.

Additionally, Taco Bell was going to pilot a conversion of three traditional suburban restaurants into Cantinas and evaluate their performance.

Taco Bell opened its first urban Cantina concept in 2015 to attract a new generation of consumers and accelerate growth in metropolitan areas. The units don’t feature a drive thru and include alcoholic beverages, pickup windows, open kitchens, shareable menu items, digital menuboards, communal tables, kiosks, open layouts, WiFi, and outlets.

Taco Bell has introduced about 30 Cantinas across the U.S. since 2015, part of about 60 urban in-line locations (Cantina units serve alcohol, while the others just feature a similar design).

Taco Bell targeted becoming a $20 billion brand with 10,000 restaurants around the world. “Overall, we’re still really bold,” King told QSR. “In the beginning of the year, we said we could be a $20 billion system, and we still believe that.”


Taco Bell boosts benefits as labor shortage hampers recovery efforts

Taco Bell has opened a “digital only” fast-food joint and bar in Times Square that uses automated kiosks to take food orders — but it will still serve booze the old-fashioned way.

The Mexican-themed chain said Tuesday the new location in the heart of Midtown features a bank of 10 kiosks where customers place their orders and pay. Opposite the kiosks stands a wall of locked cubbies that dispense tacos, burritos and chips.

The cubbies harken back to the days of automats that had populated Times Square in the decades through the 1970s, but Taco Bell said its new eatery represents the most “forward-tech” eatery in the chain.

Customers can see their burritos getting wrapped in the open kitchen, but when the order’s ready, it’s placed in heated cubbies that then light up pink. Customers enter their order number on the cubby’s touchscreen and the door opens.

Taco Bell told The Post that a human being will be stationed at a counter ready to take orders and accept payments. Taco Bell

Still, Taco Bell told The Post that a human being will be stationed at a counter ready to take orders and accept payments.

They’ll also be charged with serving the drinks and checking IDs. The new location will offer beer on tap and Taco Bell’s usual booze menu, which includes Twisted Freezes with rum, tequila or vodka as well as White Claw drinks.

“Built with the energy and on-the-go vibrance of the city in mind, the newest restaurant embraces technology in a whole new way to serve the demands of New Yorkers,” Taco Bell, which is owned by Yum Brands, said in a statement.

The automated concept is expanding at a time when Taco Bell and other fast-food restaurants are finding it difficult to hire workers. Last week, the Mexican style chain said it hopes to hire 5,000 people in one day later this month at some 2,000 restaurants across the country. Job applicants aren’t even required to leave their cars to be interviewed and complete their applications.

The Times Square location will also feature a new menu item, the $3.59 Bell Apple Freeze. Taco Bell

The Irvine, Calif.-based chain is introducing a new menu item at the Times Square store, the $3.59 Bell Apple Freeze.

The store is the 20th Cantina in New York, which represents 10 percent of Taco Bell’s locations and where the chain is expanding by 25 new eateries this year.


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