To the surprise of students and locals, Taco Bell — a Mexican-themed fast food chain — announced plans to open a location of its cantina-style restaurant in Southside Berkeley.
The new Taco Bell, whose grand opening is yet to be determined, will be located at 2528B Durant Ave. According to a statement from Taco Bell, the planned Berkeley restaurant is a part of a greater image shift for the company — the Taco Bell Urban Concept — that aims to provide a hip environment for Millennials.
Taco Bell is in the process of “modernizing the restaurant experience” with its new line of cantinas, according to a September 2015 press release from the company. As a part of this modernization, the restaurant chain will begin to serve alcoholic beverages and include new features such as open kitchens and local art.
“These new urban restaurants are a critical part of our growth strategy in markets where people experience our brand differently,” said Brian Niccol, CEO of Taco Bell, in the release. “Today’s consumers are living in more urban settings and our new restaurants cater to their lifestyle in adapting our traditional restaurant concept to fit their modern needs.”
Other noticeable features in the cantina line of stores — one of which is located in San Francisco — include digital menu boards, flat-screen TVs displaying sports and a comfortable dining area. In addition, the opening of the new restaurant will be accompanied by a revamped menu, which includes an array of shareable appetizers and specialty drinks.
While still in its planning stages, the location is looking to immerse itself within the food scene of Durant Avenue, which is currently dominated by either locally owned restaurants or smaller chains. Some of the people affiliated with these neighboring restaurants, such as Cafe Durant’s manager Hector Rosso, expressed concern over the opening of the new Taco Bell.
“It’s not healthy food,” Rosso said of Taco Bell, adding that such a large corporation would likely have a negative impact on his business. “(But) it is what it is. If they come, we need to prepare to compete with them.”
UC Berkeley students, however, were surprised but generally expressed optimism about Taco Bell coming so close to campus.
“I want to try it,” said campus student Dusty Knapp. “If the food is good, I’ll hang out there.”
Knapp added that he expects the Taco Bell to serve food faster than the neighboring small businesses and said he hopes the presence of the large chain restaurant would improve the “run-down” area.
Outside of Berkeley, Taco Bell plans to open more cantina-style restaurants in the coming year in other urban neighborhoods across the country.