Taco Bell tests more upscale Border outlet

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Taco Bell, experimenting with a spin-off concept, opened the doors Feb. 22 to a Border Bell restaurant in Mountain View, Calif.

The quick-service restaurant touts freshness and a more upscale menu than conventional Taco Bells, featuring fajitas and other grilled items.

"It's just one restaurant concept that we wanted to experiment with in the San Francisco Bay area, which is a unique market," a spokeswoman said, adding, "We have no plans at this time to expand beyond this unit."


Although the company insists it is putting minimal marketing resources behind its opening, Border Bell's debut is consistent with an internal mandate to raise menu prices by improving food quality.

Also in the works is Project Gold, an effort to develop an upgraded menu line and improve existing product quality. Industry observers suspect Taco Bell is using Border Bell as a sales and marketing laboratory for the new menu items.

Although not familiar with details on Border Bell, Ron Paul, of restaurant consultancy Technomic, said it resembles efforts of other Mexican fast-food restaurants.

"There has been a lot of experimentation with more upscale concepts, but none have had any great success," he said. "My guess is that they're just looking at how to reconfigure Taco Bell to a higher price-point and higher margins."

Meanwhile, Taco Bell is said to be talking to as many as five agencies about its $200 million creative account, now at Bozell, Costa Mesa, Calif. Among those in the running are former Taco Bell agency Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Leap Partnership, Chicago.


Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, is said to still be considering whether to pitch, but agency insiders said it likely will pass. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., reportedly was approached, but declined the invite.

FCB is believed to have been courting Taco Bell since it turned down a shot at the $45 million Subway Sandwiches & Salads review last fall. FCB lost the Taco Bell account to Bozell in 1994.

If Goodby does pitch the business, it has something of an inside line, having done earlier work for Taco Bell's full-service sister chain, Chevy's Fresh Mexican.

Regardless of which agency nabs the creative assignment, Bozell retains media buying and planning.

Taco Bell has refused to discuss the review since it was announced earlier this month.

Contributing: Mark Gleason, Alice Z. Cuneo

Copyright February 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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