This summer, the fast-food giant is putting away its gonzo fried-waffle tacos and growing up a little by opening the official-sounding U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom in Huntington Beach, California. Much like Super Chix, the KFC spinoff that just launched in a strategic attempt to tap into Chick-fil-A’s customer base, the test-market restaurant is Taco Bell’s attempt to out-Chipotle Chipotle. To that end, the focus at U.S. Taco is “$4 premium tacos” that come in flavors like “Southern Squealer,” which is kind of a sad way of saying pulled pork, and “Brotherly Love,” the “cheesesteak-inspired” taco seen here, which one imagines a Philadelphian might leave on the doorstep of someone he does not like — it’s got cotija on it instead of Whiz.
Here’s more innovation: Taco Bell senior brand manager Jeff Jenkins tells Ad Age that one idea is that the eclectic menu — which may include 10 out of a backlist of 20 “developed” tacos at any given time — will lend itself to lots and lots of Instagram posts, while Nation’s Restaurant News reports that customers “can also order their fries loaded with taco ingredients sans tortilla as a ‘secret menu’ option.”
But isn’t a secret menu item supposed to be a secret, especially at a time before the restaurant has served its very first customers? And is what happens in an “urban taproom” fundamentally different from what happens in a “suburban taproom”? Where have all the great suburban taprooms gone? And are fast-food rules, if they exist like the test-market restaurant’s website says they do, really meant to be “broke,” or just broken?
“Taco Bell is Mexican-inspired. U.S. Taco is American-inspired,” is how Greg Creed, the chain’s chief executive, explains what must have been the result of intense focus-group data-crunching and flavor profile-supercomputing. That also explains why the restaurant is serving a somewhat offensive-sounding boozy milkshake called the Mexican Car Bomb. In a Mason jar, no less.