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Taco Bell Sans Drive-Thru

October 2, 2017 Featured, Retail No Comments

Recently a longtime regular reader sent me an interesting article about Taco Bell’s big 5-year expansion plans — 300+ new locations. Taco Bell’s free-standing building design is instantly recognizable: one=story, parking lot, drive-thru window, plastic interior.

In 1994 a Taco Bell was built at the SW corner of Jefferson & Russell. After it failed it became a short-lived financial institution. The building was later razed and a multi-story daycare built on the site. March 2012

So what’s interesting about hundreds more?

Around 55 to 70 percent of Taco Bell’s revenue comes from orders purchased at the chain’s drive-thru windows. Which is why it’s rather shocking that the Tex-Mex brand plans to open hundreds (300 to 350 locations to be somewhat exact) of new drive-thru-less cantinas by 2022. More specifically, the chain wants to make its presence known in urban areas.

Zeroing in on big cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, Boston, and New York (including a plan to open at least 50 locations around the city’s five boroughs). The new-and-improved “urban in-line” or “cantina-style” stores to come will be designed to express the local vibes with artwork, open kitchens, and digital menu boards. (Food & Wine)

The first Taco Bell Cantina opened in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood in 2015:

Taco Bell really wanted to be in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, along Milwaukee Avenue, colloquially-known as “The Hipster Highway” due to the bike lanes and abundance of walking traffic. Corporate waited for a while before closing the deal on the space, which used to be Batteries Not Included, a sex toy shop. (Eater Chicago)

This first Taco Bell Cantina, a franchise, is located in an old narrow building with apartments above, see the exterior here. I hadn’t heard of this location before, and I prefer non-chains. More locations are now open in Chicago and in other cities. One new Chicago location is just 2 blocks from where we stay while in Chicago, so early next year we’ll check it out.

The closest Taco Bell to downtown is t Broadway & Chouteau, a typical suburban model. Downtown lacks a Mexican restaurant, though Downtown West has a couple. Not sure if a franchise owner in our region will e interested in downtown, Grand Center near Saint Louis University, Delmar Loop, or maybe Clayton?   Would they dare open up on Cherokee?

Of course, this could hurt locally-owned Mexican restaurants in areas too urban for a typical Taco Bell. Taco Bell is part of Yum! Brands — KFC & Pizza Hut are corporate cousins — maybe these will also develop an urban model? Expect other chains to also look to urban areas for growth — adding new suburban locations is no longer a viable strategy.

— Steve Patterson


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