Taco Bell Corp. is launching a new fast-casual taco concept designed to capture diners who are not likely to step foot in a Taco Bell.
The “One Percenter” features fresh lobster in garlic butter with red cabbage slaw and pico de gallo on crispy fry bread.
The “Brotherly Love,” is a nod to the Philly Cheesesteak, with carne asada steak, grilled peppers and onions, roasted poblano queso and cotija cheese (rather than Cheez Whiz), and fresh cilantro in a flour tortilla.
Customers will order at a counter, but the idea is not to build your own taco, as one might do at a Chipotle. The menu instead spotlights the chef-designed flavor combinations.
Most dishes will be prepared in-house, in glass-enclosed kitchens that allow guests to see meat grilling or tacos in the works — though a few ingredients will come from outside suppliers, like the Texas smoked brisket or Southern pulled pork.
The menu also includes shakes spiked with beer, such as the “Mexican Car Bomb,” featuring vanilla ice cream, tequila caramel sauce, chocolate flakes and Guinness Stout. The first location, however, a 1,600-square-foot unit on the beach-adjacent development known as The Strand, will not offer alcohol, Creed said.
But craft beers will be a vital component of future locations, including about four to six varieties on tap and roughly 50 types in bottles and cans. Don’t look for margaritas, however. “This is not a bar,” said Creed.
U.S. Taco Co.’s décor will include vibrant colors — red, white and blue — inspired by a Mexican Day of the Dead festival, with a prominent skull logo that will serve as a “beacon” of sorts. A 400-square-foot patio will offer outdoor seating.
The average check will likely be around $11.50 to $12 with a drink. Tacos are priced at about $4 each, two for $7, or three for $10. By comparison, Taco Bell’s average check is about $7.20.
While the quick-service Taco Bell has already dipped into Chipotle territory with its more-premium Cantina Bell menu developed by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia last year, this is the first time the brand has attempted a direct challenge within the fast-casual arena.
Taco Bell parent Yum! Brands Inc., based in Louisville, Ky., appears to see the fast-casual space as an opportunity.
Last year, Yum began testing a fast-casual variant of the KFC brand called KFC Eleven in Louisville.
Earlier this month, Yum opened a fast-casual concept called Super Chix, offering “the last true chicken sandwich,” near the company’s Plano, Texas, facility that houses the global headquarters of sister brand Pizza Hut.
The innovation team there is also working on another fast-casual concept called Banh Shop, scheduled to open soon in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Super Chix and Banh Shop, however, have been described as potential growth brands for overseas markets specifically.
Creed said U.S. Taco Co. is being developed as a domestic brand, though it could also travel overseas, where TV shows like Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” are raising awareness of classic American dishes.
Still, Creed was reluctant to give specifics on growth targets.
“We’re going to open a restaurant and see what happens,” he said. “I’d love to see 1,000 or 1,500 of these, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
Meanwhile, the 6,000-unit Taco Bell will remain on its aggressive path of doubling sales from $7 billion last year to $14 billion by 2022, and adding about 2,000 restaurants in the U.S.
The new concept won’t take a dollar from Taco Bell, according to Creed. “We will have two incredibly well-positioned brands,” he said.