BROOKLINE - There’s one thing to be said for Yum! Brand, the fast-food corporation behind brands like Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut. They know their supporters. They have to. Their entire company profile over the past eighteen years has consisted of a rapid-fire succession of mergers, divestitures, and expansions which read like a sixteenth-century alliance with the papacy.
You can’t really think of too many international corporations that have the sheer, unmitigated gall to open up a KFC and a Pizza Hut in the West Bank. But Yum! did. 15 separate KFC locations in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia—a city of slightly more than a million residents? That’s another Yum! innovation. It may not seem like placing the image of a kindly old spokesperson with a penchant for astrology and an alleged obsession with kidnapping his own daughter in the most unimaginable locations halfway across the globe to be the forthwith imperative of capitalism in the early 21st century. But it’s served Yum! Well; reportedly to the tune of $5.7 billion in revenue annually.
But Americans don’t seem to have cottoned onto the Colonel quite as much. At least not in Boston. In fact, I can think of only two KFC franchises in the immediate vicinity. Even less for Long John Silver’s—yet another Yum! subsidiary woefully absent in the city. And much to the chagrin of everyone I know with a deeply rooted need for self-mortification, Taco Bell.
Taco Bell has historically offered every fundamental food group every rational human being could need from a nutritious source. MSG. Modified corn starch. Lecithin. Sodium Phosphates. And Cheez Wiz. But there’s one thing it’s been lacking ever since its founder made it his mission to provide Americans with questionable cultural appropriations and sustenance of even more questionable origin: beer and wine. And that may change shortly.
In Brookline, of all places and you just may wonder how you were ever able to live without it.
Wicked Local Brookline reported that the Town of Brookline Planning Board held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss a planned facade and renovations to a vacant storefront on Commonwealth Avenue as the proposed site of the Irvine, CA-based fast-food giant’s expansion which could begin construction as early as this spring. But it’s not merely the promise of a $1.99 chalupa that’s raising eyebrows. It’s the presence of full-scale service. Including a limited alcohol license.
“This is not a standard Taco Bell. It’s called a cantina, so there is an alcohol component,” Gary Gianfrancesco, president of Arconics Architecture, explained during the meeting. “It’s basically sit-down dining with the Taco Bell menu, so the proximity to colleges is what’s gravitated us to this [location].”
What’s the primary difference? Consider it to be the older, distant cousin of Taco Bell. The one you never knew you had. The one who suddenly materialized on your doorstep unannounced after finishing a ten-year bid in Walpole State. There’s something vaguely Peckinpah-esque about his presence, but he’s family. You’ll put him up for a few nights. Then, it turns into weeks. Months. And pretty soon, you’re seeing black helicopters flying above your apartment and a mysterious white van parked across the street at all hours of the night.
Or, as Business Insider recently described it, “a modern, upscale take on the traditional Taco Bell,” complete with “trendy decor, shareable tapas-style menus, and alcoholic drinks” noted more for automatic self-serve machines and a garish mural straight off the set of Breakin’ 2 than the suburban idyll of your youth.
"The research we've done in New York tells us that our fans want an experience that parallels their lifestyle – fast and at their fingertips. We now give our guests five ways to order, spanning from at home, on-the-go, or in restaurant," said Mike Grams, Chief Operating Officer, in a 2018 press release announcing Taco Bell Cantina’s New York expansion. "The convenience we have introduced through our technology allows guests to spend less time waiting for their food and more time enjoying our new beer with their loved ones."
See! Taco Bell loves you. Taco Bell Cantina loves you and Yum! Brands loves you. But the Colonel? He has different plans. A KFC-themed theme park in the middle of Greenland. It’s a beautiful time to be alive.
Image via Wikimedia Commons