Taco Bell is testing a new concept, U.S. Taco Co., aimed at the fast-casual, Mexican food market — typified by Chipotle and Qdoba Mexican Grill — but with an American flare.
Like the kingpin of premium Mexican, Chipotle, customers order at a counter in a build-your-own-taco mode. An open kitchen allows diners to see meals being made to order. With an edgy Day of the Dead-theme, the décor will feature vibrant colors — red, white and blue — as well as wood tabletops and floors, subway tile and contemporary lighting. A 400-square-foot patio at the first test in Huntington Beach offers outdoor seating.
The big difference is that many ingredients are American rather than Mexican inspired.
A core lineup of 10 tacos includes one with pulled pork and peach jalapeno barbecue sauce. Other fillings include fried chicken with gravy, smoked beef brisket covered in melted Oaxacan cheese, and lobster in garlic butter with red cabbage slaw. The concept will sell milkshakes infused with Guinness and tequila as well as habanero steak fries. Tacos cost $4.00, nearly double those at Taco Bell.
What won't be found are burritos, beans, rice or tortilla chips — typical fare at Chipotle and Taco Bell.
Speaking to Nation's Restaurant News, Jeff Jenkins, senior brand manager at Taco Bell, said, "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.
The concept promises to capitalize on the "better taco" trend that has been growing out of U.S. cities with large Hispanic populations as well as the experimentation with American classics largely seen within the food truck craze.
"There's a lot of great fusion going on," Mr. Jenkins told Advertising Age.
The concept came after a segmentation study conducted by Taco Bell found that a large demographic of higher-income foodies will spend a little more for higher-quality ingredients and better atmosphere, and were not likely to visit quick-service restaurants at all.
A second location in the Los Angeles area is in the works.
"I would love one day to see 1,000 of these," Taco Bell's CEO Greg Creed told the Orange County Register. "But let's not get that far ahead of ourselves. We're opening a restaurant and seeing what happens."
How likely is U.S. Taco Co. to succeed?