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Taco Bell Cantina to open on Mill Avenue by end of 2019

The Mexican-style restaurant chain replaces a Tempe staple

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A sign announcing the construction of a new Taco Bell Cantina photographed on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019 at the former Restaurant Mexico building on Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. 

Maroon and gold could appear in the form of mild sauce and queso with the addition of a Taco Bell Cantina near ASU's Tempe campus. 

The cantina will open at the end of this year at 423 S. Mill Ave, and take over the space of Restaurant Mexico, which closed in August, according to azcentral. The new location is a 15-minute walk from ASU's Hayden Library, according to Google Maps. 

This location will be the second one in the state, with Arizona’s first Taco Bell Cantina located in downtown Phoenix, half a mile from ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus.

These eateries are similar to other Taco Bell locations but with an added twist: Taco Bell Cantinas have alcohol on the menu along with a different design and shareable menu options.

"We are aiming to provide a localized restaurant where fans of Taco Bell can come for a unique experience and hang out with friends," a Taco Bell spokesperson said in an email. "Because we’re building in highly walkable areas and normally going into buildings where we can’t have a drive-thru, we are able to add alcohol to the menu." 

When a sign announcing the Taco Bell Cantina’s future arrival appeared on the building’s window, ASU students took notice. 

Hannah Stickel, a senior studying aerospace engineering, said the restaurant is an exciting addition to the already popular Mill Avenue. Stickel said she isn’t alone in her interest — alcohol aside, any Taco Bell near campus means an easy food stop for students. 

The closest Taco Bell to ASU's Tempe campus is located on the northeast corner of Rural Road and Apache Boulevard and is open 24/7, according to its website. The soon-to-be-opened Taco Bell Cantina will be open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, the spokesperson said. 

“I think it’s just the appeal of having cheap, easy dinner,” Stickel said. “I go because I know I can spend less than $5 and have dinner instantly. The convenience of having fast food near campus is very tempting for a lot of students.” 

However, not everyone is equally tempted. Restaurant Mexico, the business that was previously in that building, was a Tempe staple for 42 years according to azcentral

Restaurant Mexico closed after the owner wanted to retire, but the difference between authentic Mexican food and chain restaurants might shift the audience the locale used to attract. 

"I've been visiting Restaurant Mexico for 17 years," Cara McDaniel, a clinical associate professor in ASU's Department of Economics, said. "It's a bit of a shame that a chain has come in because it's taking away the variety that local restaurants like that offer." 

Personal preferences aside, McDaniel said there is a big difference between the resources that chains and local shops can access. This can make the difference between restaurant success and failure.  

"I think it can be particularly difficult for owners and operators of family-based shops because they face more restrictions, so the costs are higher for both owners and customers," she said. "Taco Bell can afford to charge so little because they have the resources." 

At a location surrounded by college students, income often plays a role in eating habits. 

Douglas Olsen, an associate professor and associate chair in the department of marketing for the W.P. Carey School of Business, said adding cantina locations near ASU campuses is a “very well-thought-out idea.” 

“With the addition of the cantina aspect, it moves Taco Bell from being a quick-serve restaurant to more of a gathering place,” Olsen said. “It’s no longer about eating food, it’s a whole new experience.” 

He said a common question businesses ask themselves is what job needs to be done, adding that for Taco Bell, that job is serving food at a reasonable price. By adding the cantina factor to the fast food chain, the restaurant is drawing in not only established customers but people who are craving more of a sit-down experience. 

“To locate a Taco Bell Cantina near a college campus, somewhere that doesn’t allow alcohol, is a very interesting strategic move,” Olsen said.

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