"Everyone in the U.S. has become a foodie," says Jenkins. "The first thing young people do in a restaurant is take out their camera and take a picture of their food—and post it on Instagram." Consider: Nearly half of the images posted on Instagram are of food.
This is Taco Bell's long-awaited move to tap into the restaurant world's fastest-growing segment: fast-casual. This is the land inhabited by success stories like Chipotle and Panera Bread—who have figured a way to directly appeal to millennials. In fact, continued growth in the fast-casual sector—particularly via fast-food chains expanding into the sector—is the No. 1 restaurant trend that the research firm Technomic projects for 2014.
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Taco Bell executives already are planning a second U.S. Taco Co. location in Southern California—but they won't say where. The second store, and those after it, will sell milkshakes spiked with beer. (It couldn't get an alcoholic beverage permit for the Huntington Beach location.)
For extra millennial appeal, the place will pulsate with rock music. It will have an outdoor dining patio. And the kitchen will be set behind glass, so customers can watch the "food theater," says Jenkins.
Most important: Don't look for the Taco Bell name anywhere in the restaurant. "This is an entirely separate brand," says Jenkins. "You will not see Taco Bell."
Not even a Waffle Taco.
—By Bruce Horovitz, USA Today