Next week, Taco Bell will debut a new restaurant concept that dumps the drive-thru and brings on the booze as it seeks to appeal to hip, young city dwellers and fend off rivals such as Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.
The first of the chain's new Taco Bell Cantina restaurants will open in Chicago's hip Wicker Park neighborhood on Sept. 22 and will serve beer, wine, sangria and twisted freezes - frozen drinks spiked with rum, vodka or tequila.
Chipotle already offers alcohol at about 1,000 restaurants. Most of those sell both beer and margaritas, while some sell only beer. The move from Taco Bell comes as U.S. restaurant chains experiment with new ways to add sales and lure customers.
“To put in a drive-thru you need land,” Neil Borkan, the Taco Bell franchisee who will operate the Chicago test location told USA TODAY. “Can you imagine buying an acre of land in a neighborhood like Wicker Park? You couldn’t afford it. As real estate becomes more and more expensive, this kind of concept makes more sense.”
Taco Bell, which recently had a huge hit with its Doritos Locos tacos, debuted a Chipotle-like "Cantina" menu a few years ago and is testing a separate urban taco concept called U.S. Taco Co in Huntington Beach, California.
On other fronts, 75 Starbucks Corp cafes offer that chain's "evenings" menu that includes craft, local and regional beer, wine and small plates of food. Starbucks goal is to have "evenings" in roughly 2,000 Starbucks locations by 2019.
Taco Bell, which now has more than 6,000 restaurants, plans to add 2,000 new restaurants by 2022. It did not say how many new or remodeled restaurants would become Taco Bell Cantinas.