Taco Bell is overhauling four California locations with sleek seating, distressed wood, funky pendant lighting and other elements in a test that may help the chain appear more like a chic loft than a fast-food taco joint.
Four company-owned locations in Orange Country, Calif. will get the new looks this summer, along with plans to expand last year's new Cantina design to more urban locations this year.
Each of four new test designs -- California Sol, Heritage, Modern Explorer and Urban Edge -- has its own distinct details, yet might also remind older patrons of the fast feeder's early California days. Taco Bell described the California Sol look as blurring the lines of indoor and outdoor with a "laidback, beachy feel." The Heritage look is known as a modern interpretation of its original Mission Revival style, including warm white walls, tiles and heavy timber. Modern Explorer, meanwhile, is a more rustic, modern style that can work in suburban or rural locations. And Urban Edge is meant to be "an eclectic mix of international and street style done the Taco Bell way."
The latest designs, which some might think are reminiscent of an upscale Chipotle Mexican Grill or even a restaurant with table service, were worked on internally and follow September's Cantina openings in Chicago and San Francisco. Cantina locations, with open kitchens and in some cases alcohol on the menu, may also get an expansion. The next city being considered for the so-called urban development is Atlanta, Taco Bell said. It is also considering a number of areas for future locations, including major metropolitan areas and smaller cities with some downtown appeal.
Taco Bell remodeled about 600 restaurants last year and opened another 275, counts it expects to outpace this year. The chain has about 7,000 U.S. restaurants and plans to build another 2,000 restaurants by 2022. And 200 of those upcoming locations, or 10% of the total, are meant to be urban locations. Taco Bell has previously said it wants to build or remodel about 600 locations a year.
Taco Bell is not the only U.S. chain giving itself a bit of a makeover. On Monday, Applebee's said it is putting American-made wood-fired grills in nearly 2,000 U.S. restaurants as part of a broader plan to remodel restaurants and introduce new restaurant designs. Applebee's said the wide range of work, including putting in the new grills and training meat cutters, along with marketing led by Barkley, means an investment of more than $75 million by its franchisees.
Taco Bell declined to share financial details on its redesigns, but shared that the costs of the new design remodels are equal to costs of current remodels. Taco Bell is owned by Yum Brands, which has given its KFC chain a fresh look more inspired by founder Colonel Sanders in some locations.