Like Jon Bon Jovi and Tom Cruise, Taco Bell turned 50 this year. And like Jon Bon Jovi and Tom Cruise, Taco Bell does not intend to start looking its own age anytime soon. Not with younger, hipper rival Chipotle nipping at its heels. So the Irvine, Cali.-based fast food chain is getting a facelift.
Taco Bell is testing out its new look at newly-built locations in Commerce City, Colo., Sanger, Texas and Redwood City, Cali. this fall, with three more slated to open in 2013. The design for the six locations was codified in a master plan for the brand developed internally about a year ago, Taco Bell's director of concept development Don Roberts told The Huffington Post.
The design's most striking feature is a layer of narrow black metal slats covering one of the building's four tan exterior walls. At night, LED lights shine Taco Bell purple light out from between the wall and the slats, which are spaced out slightly to let light through.
"As night falls, and as late night begins, we really celebrate that light-night feeling with a purple glow that comes from behind the slat wall," Roberts said. "You will be able to see it from a quarter-mile away. This building is truly going to be best on block, it will truly be a beacon in the night."
The rest of the changes are more subtle, but they bring the look of the stores closer to the sleek, minimalist look native to newer chains like Smashburger and Chipotle and also on display in recent redesigns of quick-service restaurants such as Wendy's. As such, the chain hopes the new designs will reinforce the consumer goodwill inspired by the recent success of Doritos Locos Tacos and the new Cantina Bell menu.
But marketing is not the sole concern Taco Bell hopes to address with the redesign. Roberts said that the new restaurants will cost less to build than those that follow the current guidelines. He declined to specify how much the new design will save franchise owners, but he emphasized that his group was guided by its "maniacal focus on cost reduction" in the hopes of making outposts affordable for new franchisees and markets.
Elements of the new design will also be applied to existing locations. Roberts said that every outpost will eventually get a new Taco Bell sign, with new typography and graphics, and that other features, including the backlit slats, will be installed on a case-by-case basis. Roberts claimed that the company's master plan does not specify a time frame for these renovations.
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Taco Bell Doritos Locos Taco
<strong>The Method:</strong> The one that started it all uses a proprietary taco shell-shaped Doritos chip as its wrapper, and comes swathed in a special cardboard holder to prevent Doritos powder from coating eaters' hands. <strong>The Verdict:</strong> Very positive reviews all around; most agreed that the tacos had been improved by the extra salt and savoriness of the Doritos shell. The biggest complaint was that there wasn't enough Doritos flavor -- it seemed as if the seasoning had been tamped down vis-a-vis the normal chips. To solve this problem, we tried adding more Doritos in the middle of the taco. It didn't help.
Cosi Signature Salad
<strong>The Method:</strong> We tossed crumbled Doritos into Cosi's signature salad, which contains mixed greens, gorgonzola and cranberries. <strong>The Verdict:</strong> Pretty solid! The chips added some much needed saltiness and crunch to what is usually a sweet, mushy salad. On the other hand, the signature Doritos flavor didn't really stand up to the salad's vinaigrette and ingredients; almost any chip would have improved the salad. In the words of one taster, "Since there is blue cheese in the salad, it feels like the two are competing for attention."
<strong>The Method:</strong> Since we were too bashful to ask our Chipotle assembly line wrapper to crumble the Doritos into the middle of the burrito, we ended up stuffing it ourselves ex post wrappo. <strong>The Verdict:</strong> Funny! But not good-tasting, sadly. One taster said that the pairing was "good texturally," but most agreed that the subtle, natural flavors of a Chipotle burrito clashed with the artificiality of Doritos.
Wendy's French Fries
<strong>The Method:</strong> Grind the chips into a powder, then shake them up with the fries to coat them evenly. <strong>The Verdict:</strong> Possibly the worst of the pairings. One taster compared them to "dry cheese fries," while another noted that, "Ketchup does not go with Doritos." Blech!
McDonald's Big Mac
<strong>The Method:</strong> Added whole Doritos on top of both the burger's beef patties. <strong>The Verdict:</strong> Bravo! Most tasters agreed that this was almost as good a match as Eddard and Catelyn Stark on "Game of Thrones." (Full disclosure: they did not use a "Song of Ice and Fire" analogy to convey their enthusiasm.) One said, "The creamy sauce complements the crunchy texture of the chips," which, another added, "makes it more satisfying, because usually it's one-dimensional."
McDonald's Chicken McNuggets
<strong>The Method:</strong> We stuck Doritos into the McNuggets, as our photographer put it, "like shards of glass." <strong>The Verdict:</strong> These were divisive. Some tasters hated the combo, finding the McNugget flavor and texture overpowering. But others said that dipping the Doritos-adorned nuggets into barbecue sauce made for a revelatory melding of flavors.
Subway Spicy Italian Sub
<strong>The Method:</strong> Lay whole chips right up in the middle of the sub. <strong>The Verdict:</strong> One of the better matches. One taster even called it "delicious," noting that salami and Doritos have mutually beneficial flavor profiles. Another taster, though, quipped that, "This does not taste discernibly different because normally when I eat a Subway sandwich I'm also stuffing Doritos in my face." (It's not clear that this was a criticism.)
Dunkin' Donuts Glazed Donuts
<strong>The Method:</strong> Because we had three donuts, we decided to try a few things... we stuck them in as with the McNuggets, we stuffed them in the middle as with the Big Mac and we sprinkled their crumbs on top as with the Wendy's Fries. <strong>The Verdict:</strong> Another divisive dish. Though one taster praised the Doritos donuts for their "nice cheesecake taste," others picked up artificial, bitter flavors that they said ruined the meld. Everyone thought they LOOKED awesome though!