The concept's logo was inspired by a Mexican Day of the Dead theme.
Taco Bell Corp. is launching a new fast-casual taco concept designed to capture diners who are not likely to step foot in a Taco Bell.
Named U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom, the new concept is scheduled to open in Huntington Beach, Calif., this summer offering a simple lineup of 10 premium tacos, thick-cut fries and shakes. Future locations will also include a menu of craft beer and wine.
Designed by an “intrepreneurial” team of young Taco Bell executives in a “secret war room” at the chain’s Irvine, Calif.-based headquarters, the new concept is nothing like the mothership brand — except that tacos are on the menu. There will be no fried shells dusted in Doritos flavors, no burritos, no “quesarito” hybrids or anything that looks like a Crunchwrap Supreme, and no drive-thrus.
And rather than going for an authentic Mexican theme, the new concept will tap regional American flavors, offering a playful menu of premium tacos in the fusion style of food trucks or the contemporary taquerias of Dallas or San Francisco’s Mission district.
“Taco Bell is Mexican inspired. U.S. Taco is American inspired,” said Greg Creed, Taco Bell’s chief executive, who is largely credited with piloting a dramatic turnaround for the quick-service chain over the past two years.
Creed said U.S. Taco Co. was born of a segmentation study conducted on Taco Bell that revealed a fairly large demographic that was not likely to use quick-service restaurants at all. Rather than spend millions trying to lure those potential diners into Taco Bell, Creed’s team decided to design a new concept that would appeal to that demographic, which includes an eclectic mix of generally higher-income foodies who are “edgy in how they live their lives but not necessarily in how they eat,” he said.
The project has been led by Jeff Jenkins, Taco Bell senior brand manager and “resident disrupter,” who is also leading the company’s mobile ordering initiative.
Also on the team is Rene Pisciotti as the brand’s executive and menu architect, along with consultant Max Schlutz, co-owner of the recently opened Sessions Sandwiches concept in Newport Beach, Calif., who formerly worked with the Domaine Restaurant Group on concepts like Red Pearl and 25 Degrees.
Following the “better burger” movement of the past decade, a “better taco” trend has been growing out of U.S. cities with large Hispanic populations to become more mainstream.
But Jenkins acknowledged that “everyone in fast casual is heading in the direction of burritos.” Deciding to “zig while everyone else zagged,” the team decided to take “the best of American cuisine and put it into a taco,” he said.