Tacos and tequila

by Erica Shaffer
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Taco Bell Cantina restaurants incorporate the architecture of the surrounding community.
Taco Bell Cantina restaurants incorporate the architecture of the surrounding community. (Rendering: Taco Bell)

IRVINE, Calif. – Taco Bell, a unit of Yum! Brands, will debut its Taco Bell Cantina concept in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago on Sept. 22. The chain’s new restaurant concept will be the first and only Taco Bell locations to serve alcohol.

Taco Bell’s Cantina concept drops the drive-thru and incorporates the architecture of the surrounding neighborhood, the company said. For example, the Wicker Park location operates from a 100-year-old building. The restaurant features brick walls and restored prismatic glass. A mural created by a local artist acknowledges the neighborhood’s history as a historic hub. The San Francisco restaurant, which is located near AT&T Park (home to Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants), features a patio and a mobile pick-up window.

“These new urban restaurants are a critical part of our growth strategy in markets where people experience our brand differently,” said Brian Niccol, CEO of Taco Bell Corp. “Today’s consumers are living in more urban settings and our new restaurants cater to their lifestyle in adapting our traditional restaurant concept to fit their modern needs.”

The restaurants also reflect consumer perception of Taco Bell as the millennial brand with the addition of digital technology. In October 2014, the company became the first quick-service restaurant chain to launch a mobile ordering and payment app at participating restaurants nationwide for both drive-thru and dining room orders. Taco Bell Cantina locations will carry on this theme with digital menu boards and television monitors, in addition to the mobile ordering and payment app.

Alcohol will be served at Taco Bell Cantina locations.
Customers at Taco Bell Cantina have a selection of alcoholic beverages to pair with their meals. (photo: Taco Bell via AP)

The urban-inspired concept rips a page from the Chipotle Mexican Grill playbook by offering beer, wine, sangria and twisted freezes, which are frozen drinks containing tequila, rum or vodka. A second location slated to open in San Francisco later this month will serve beer and wine only.

The Taco Bell Cantina menu features tapas-style shareable appetizers during designated hours in the evening in addition to the full standard Taco Bell menu. Cooks will prepare meals in an open kitchen design, and food will be served in open-face baskets.

Taco Bell currently is considering expanding Taco Bell Cantina to additional urban markets. Meanwhile, the company’s overall growth plan includes the addition of 2,000 stores to its portfolio by 2022. Taco Bell aims to build or remodel roughly 600 restaurants per year.

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