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Taco Bell's New City Concept


As a city guy with an affinity for the woods, I love the trend of people moving back into city centers, because it's a more responsible use of precious space that discourages urban sprawl. To this end, I’m delighted to see a handful of companies retooling their concepts to inhabit reinvigorated urban centers.

The latest is the most surprising—Taco Bell’s new Cantina concept. By ditching the drive-thru, tweaking the menu, adopting a fresher design and adding alcohol, the Irvine-California-based taco giant is offering city dwellers a much more modern version of itself. According to its press release announcement, the company views the Cantina as a crucial part of its future growth strategy.

“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 need,” said CEO Brian Niccol.

The first Taco Bell Cantina just opened in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, with the second coming shortly afterward in San Francisco.

Hitting all of the millennial buzzwords, TB says its new Cantinas are centered on urbanization, digitization (fancy menu boards, mobile ordering), localization (architecture that fits the neighborhood), energy efficiency and transparency (open kitchens). They’ll also feature some tapas-style menu items exclusive to the Cantinas.

Oh yeah, and booze. These will be the “first and only Taco Bell restaurants to serve alcohol,” with the San Francisco location getting beer and wine, and the Wicker Park store getting beer, wine, sangria and twisted Freezes—frozen cocktails.

So, is this pandering or smart business? Hard to say until I visit one myself, although early reviews suggest the Cantina is like a Chipotle mixed with a sports bar. While I’m personally not a Taco Bell enthusiast with so many authentic taco places near my house in my hip corner of Minneapolis, this sounds very appealing, and like just the kind of place the Buffalo Wild Wings crowd would love—not a bad demographic to chase.

I may sound like a foodie hipster, but let me be clear as a shooter of silver tequila: older concepts reinventing themselves for the city is a trend I would gladly get behind with my own wallet.


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The latest news, opinions and commentary on what's happening in the franchise arena that could affect your business.

Laura MichaelsLaura Michaels is editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3210, or send story ideas to lmichaels@franchisetimes.com.
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is senior editor of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at




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