Taco Bell Rings in New Shipping-Container-Designed Restaurant

When Taco Bell is thrown into the ring, this brand is used to coming out on top. (And it did in this year’s Most Loved Brand Report with the highest consumer sentiment score, according to Foodable Labs.)

Whether it’s been through interactive Snapchat marketing — breaking the social media app’s all-time record for campaign views — or simply setting the standard for today’s brand storytelling, especially when it comes to attracting the rising buying power of the millennial generation, one thing is for sure: Taco Bell is constantly disrupting and has been on the fast track to setting itself apart from the fast food pack.

What is this brand’s next venture? An all-new, shipping-container-designed Taco Bell location.

While we have seen pop-up eateries, food halls, independent restaurants, and other name brands such as Starbucks stir the shipping container movement, Taco Bell is a pioneer in its segment, bringing this elevated, hip, almost fast-casual feel to quick service.

This container-based restaurant, set to open by the end of 2016 in South Gate, Calif., will be 1080 square feet in size and comprised of five shipping containers. The five-module restaurant was originally a pop-up at the South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference & Festivals, but the concept garnered enough respect to warrant its permanence. However, this design is more than just bells and whistles — what makes the container craze so special is its sustainable, recycled quality.

As a shipping container buildout not only reuses material that would otherwise be left sitting to rust, it cuts construction costs and leaves a smaller footprint on the environment, because instead of establishing a structure from scratch and investing in conventional building materials, shipping containers can be configured into many different formats.   

The team paving the way for this Taco Bell vision is SG Blocks, a leader and innovator in designing and fabricating container-based structures. The SG Blocks team is working with Alvarado Construction, Inc. to install the new location, and they’re aiming to do it all in one week.

“We repurposed a pop-up Taco Bell that was originally made from recycled materials, creating one of the greenest fast-food restaurants in the country,” Paul Galvin, Chairman and CEO of SG Blocks, said in a press release. “This is truly disruptive! Container-based, modular building is changing residential and commercial real estate. We are minimizing waste, speeding up construction, and repurposing durable, seaworthy materials in order to create sustainable buildings.”

This is hardly the first time this edgy chain has pushed the envelope when it comes to restaurant design, though. As Business Insider puts it best, “Taco Bell’s new restaurants are unrecognizable.”

Gone are the days of neon pink, purple, and teal laminate restaurant booths and fun, funky shapes splashed against stark white walls, remnant of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fashion. The new looks are trendy, modern, and upscale, with dark wood, metals, outdoor fireplaces, and a boozy, Cantina flair.

While redesign is a gradual progress, Taco Bell debuted four different store models across Orange County in California, which were:

  • Modern Explorer, rustic and inspired by farms, pays homage to the brand’s commitment to being transparent about their ingredients.
  • Urban Edge, a mix of street style and international, is a nod to the big city.
  • California Sol, which pays tribute to California’s laid-back, beachy, al fresco lifestyle, “blurs the lines” between being inside and in the open air.
  • Heritage, a design inspired by Mexican culinary roots, plays warm walls with classic tile and heavy timbers. Photos of these designs can be found here.

The new shipping container restaurant is just as innovative, and while all customer seating will be in an outdoor patio, the full Taco Bell menu will be served and an ADA-compliant restroom will be in one of the five containers.

“We love the idea of building a store out of a container,” Jeff Geller, Alvarado’s executive vice president, said. And the company, which owns 110 Taco Bell locations across Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Wisconsin, and California, certainly resonates with the brand.  “Taco Bell has a mission to be as green as possible and as a franchisee, we want to follow in its path.”

And will Taco Bell deliver more shipping-container-based restaurants in the future? The fast food giant’s expansion plan includes a goal of increasing its store count to 8,000 by the year 2022, making that just over 1,000 new locations at its current count of 6,975 earlier this month. Will shipping container restaurants, with less overhead costs than those of traditional brick-and-mortar buildings, be a possible option?

“We think we could do 100 to 200 of these container stores. But it has to be in the right climate and the right location for it to make sense,” Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol said. “We’re going to explore dropping this type of asset in different locations, which will ultimately give us the ability to show up in unexpected places for our consumers.”