A couple of years ago, when other fast food chains started partnering with companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods on plant-based alternatives to beef, Taco Bell held back.
But now the Irvine-based fast food giant is making its move.
Taco Bell is testing an item called the Cravetarian Taco with a proprietary filling that’s a blend of peas and chickpeas. It was created by Taco Bell’s chefs to have the taste, look and texture of its ground beef filling.
The taco is available for $2.19 at one Southern California restaurant in Tustin through April 29, or while supplies last, according to a news release. The address is 14042 Red Hill Ave.
It is modeled on Taco Bell’s Crunchy Taco Supreme. In addition to the plant-based filling, it includes shredded cheddar cheese, reduced fat sour cream, lettuce and diced tomatoes in a crunchy corn shell. It contains 180 calories, 90 less than the Crunchy Taco Supreme.
It is not vegan. But like other fast food products like Del Taco’s Beyond Taco and Carl’s Jr.s’ Beyond Famous Star, both launched in 2019, it is intended to appeal to flexitarians, people who enjoy the taste of meat but want to cut down on consumption for health or ethical reasons.
There’s a new, unexpected player in the hot chicken sandwich war: Taco Bell.
The Irvine-based fast food giant will soon be testing an item called the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco, which a news release calls both a sandwich and a taco.
The sandwiches will go on sale for $2.49 each in Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., on March 11. Southern Californians will have to wait for a while. Taco Bell plans a nationwide debut later this year.
The sandwiches feature chicken meat marinated in jalapeño buttermilk, seasoned, and battered with a tortilla chip coating.
The chicken is folded into a piece of bread that resembles a pita and is spread with creamy chipotle sauce.
A spicy version of the sandwich includes a a slice of jalapeño that resembles pickle slices in Nashville chicken sandwiches.
The Rosemead-based company — which includes Panda Express, Panda Inn and Hibachi San — has grown to the nation’s largest Asian restaurant chain with 2,167 Panda Express, four Panda Inns and 18 Habachi San eateries for a combined 2,200 restaurants.
The company has faced challenges in the form of lawsuits alleging wage and hour discrimination, workplace safety and employment discrimination, but Panda says it places a strong emphasis on programs that promote and support employees.
This is the fifth consecutive year Panda has landed in the Top Workplaces program. Employees in the survey called the work fun and challenging, noting that “everyone is treated equally and it doesn’t have to be serious all the time. It feels like a family.”
The company answered the Register’s questions via email. They have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Why do you think your company has done so well?
A: We are so grateful for the successes we’ve had, and we believe they are due to the strong values our founders, Andrew and Peggy Cherng, have built Panda Restaurant Group on. With a company that is purpose-led and values-driven, you create a culture that fosters a sense of belonging and family. We truly are vested in the growth of our associate, both personally and professionally, and strive to help them achieve their goals.
Additionally, we have a Panda Associate Assistance Fund that allows fellow associates to aid one another in times of need. For example, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Panda Express provided payroll advances along with other necessities to associates who were out of work due to the storm thanks to funds raised by our associates. This is just one of the many examples of kindness and togetherness we are fortunate enough to see at Panda every day. Our company succeeds when our people succeed.
Q: How do you stay ahead of the competition?
A: At PRG, we strive for an environment where continuous learning, a healthy lifestyle and respect for others are emphasized and acknowledged. To achieve this, we offer not only competitive benefits and compensation but also opportunities for our associates to grow. Whether employees participate in leadership and functional skill classes at University of Panda or take part in our Learning Benefit Program, which allows them up to $2,500 in college tuition assistance, we aim to provide our associates with the tools they need to achieve success.
Additionally, we believe in a “whole person” approach to health which entails physical, mental and emotional well-being and we provide associates access to competitive benefits that support all three. We are dedicated to constantly evolving our benefits program to best support our growing family of associates.
Q: What are some of the things the company does to benefit employees?
A: Aside from the competitive benefits such as pay and paid time off, PRG carries its philosophy of giving over to its associates. Panda Cares, Panda Express’ philanthropic arm that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, not only focuses on giving back to the communities in which it serves, but also giving back to its employees in times of need such as natural disasters or illness. Our strong commitment to our Panda family is an invaluable trait that differentiates PRG from other workplaces.
Q: Can you talk about how leadership plays a role in keeping staff engaged and part of the overall process?
A: We look to our leaders to set the tone in creating an environment where associates’ voices are heard, and they are inspired to create a better life for themselves and to inspire others to do the same. They are able to do this as our leaders have had the chance to move through the ranks themselves and experience all aspects of the job.
Panda Express continuously promotes from within, with the internal promotion rate from hourly to management positions being 70 percent while multi-unit managers and above are 100 percent internally promoted, including operation leaders. It is because of these opportunities that our leaders are able to set the tone and keep associates engaged and excited about their futures.
Q: How have rising minimum wage requirements in various states and cities affected your company?
A: We are committed to the personal development of our associates and it is our priority is to take care of our people. PRG offers a great career path, so we feel it’s important to invest in our employees and because of this, we offer above minimum wage in most of our regions.
Two new combatants, McDonald’s and Jack In The Box, have entered the “chicken war” launched by Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen on Aug. 12.
That’s the date when Popeyes debuted a chicken sandwich that became a runaway success. After two weeks of long lines at drive-thrus and social media frenzy, the Miami-based fast food chain announced it had run out of supplies to make the sandwiches and pulled them from its menus.
The battle lines were initially drawn by fans of Popeyes and fans of Chick-fil-A, which has been selling a very similar sandwich for decades. Wendy’s entered the fray because it had a new spicy nuggets promotion.
And now after two weeks of quiet, McDonald’s has come out with a Spicy BBQ Chicken Sandwich.
It has the same essentials as Popeyes’ and Chick-fil-A’s sandwich, a crispy chicken fillet served on a bun with a couple of pickle slices.
McDonald’s sandwich adds some raw onion and a new barbecue glaze. It costs $5.29, more than the $3.99 that Popeyes’ was charging.
Jack In The Box’s Really Big Chicken Sandwich has tomato, mayonnaise and lettuce, making it more like Wendy’s chicken sandwiches. What’s different is that it starts with two chicken patties, and customers can add one or two more if they like. It also includes bacon.
Combos cost $3.99-$5.99.
Popeyes has yet to say when it the sandwich will return. The banner on its website shows an empty sandwich wrapper with the words, “Be right back.”
But on Thursday, Popeyes launched a promotion called BYOB, “Bring Your Own Buns,” encouraging customers to buy three-piece chicken tenders and supply their own bread.
A news release announcing the promotion was accompanied by a short video featuring skeptical-looking actors.
“Seriously,” one of the actors says, “when are you bringing the sandwich back?”
Only a few people will get to experience these exclusives during the four-night run of the pop-up, called The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel & Resort, in August. Its 70-plus rooms sold out in two minutes when Taco Bell started taking reservations in late June.
The pop-up will be at the V Palm Springs, near the city’s downtown tourist area.
The Irvine-based fast food chain calls the hotel menu “resort inspired.” while it doesn’t sound like typical Taco Bell, it is the work of Executive Chef Rene Pisciotti, the “taco whisperer” behind Nacho Fries.
Although it’s called Avocado Toast-ada, the avocado toast will be on multigrain bread.
Fire! Chip Chilaquiles will feature tomatillo salsa, Mexican crema, queso fresco, pico de gallo and a fried egg.
The Toasted Cheddar Club will feature hand-breaded crispy chicken, jalapeño bacon, avocado and sharp cheddar cheese.
Beverages will include a Baja Blast Birthday Freeze, celebrating the Mountain Dew soft drink launched 15 years ago, and a Horchata-Date Smoothie, which is a take on date milkshakes, a local favorite. Dates are a big crop in the Coachella Valley.
In addition to food, The Bell will have themed decorations throughout, live entertainment, and branded merchandise in the gift shop, which is only for guests with reservations.
While it’s too late to book a room, fans will be able to shop for exclusives and keep track of the pop-up at tacobell.com/the-bell-hotel
Reservations are apt to go fast, because although the V has 140 rooms, Taco Bell’s room count will be “over 70,” and the news release predicted they will be “snapped up in moments.”
Rates start at $169 per night for rooms with one king or two queen beds, and the experience is intended for guests 18 and older.
The experience will include Taco Bell decor in guest rooms, entertainment by artists from Feed the Beat, Taco Bell’s music program, and the “Freeze Lounge,” inspired by Mountain Dew Baja Blast.
Guests will get to try new Taco Bell menu items making their debut at the event. The menu will be announced in July.
The V Palm Springs is situated at the end where South Palm Canyon Drive, the city’s main drag, turns into East Palm Canyon Drive. It is on a stretch of Mid-Century Modern motels that have been gentrified. Once a Travelodge, the V opened in 2015 with what it calls a “fresh, chic vibe” that invites revelry and relaxation.
It is close to the heart of town but now within walking distance for most people.
In the ad, he plays a parking attendant who becomes a pop star by singing about what he loves. That would be Nacho Fries.
The other actor in the commercial is Chris Diamantopoulos of HBO’s “Silicon Valley.”
Nacho Fries are Taco Bell’s most successful limited time offer ever and have been off and on the menu three prior times since their debut in January. Earlier ad campaigns have featured Josh Duhamel in an “X Files”-type mysteries.
According to a news release, Nacho Fries are available à la carte for $1.29; as Nacho Fries Supreme with ground beef, tomatoes and reduced fat sour cream for $2.49; Nacho Fries Bell Grande, $3.49; and in a $5 box with a 5-Layer Burrito, a Doritos Locos Taco and a medium soft drink.
Taco Bell is planning to open a pop-up hotel in Palm Springs this summer.
The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort will open Aug. 9, according to a news release from the Irvine-based fast food giant.
Where is it?
What are the room rates?
Will there be a Taco Bellhop?
We don’t know, but Taco Bell promises to tell us more when it starts taking reservations in June.
Wherever The Bell is, it will be serving Taco Bell food and cocktails or guests 18 and older, according to a news release.
And the property will be “infused with a Taco Bell twist” from its guest rooms to its gift shop and salon offering “Taco Bell-inspired nail art, fades and a braid bar.”
And there will be a pool. That’s fortunate for a couple of reasons.
The first is Taco Bell’s summer collection, recently added to its its online merchandise “Taco Shop.” It includes bikinis emblazoned with hot sauce packets, swim trunks and velour beach towels.
More importantly, Palm Springs visitors need a pool in August. Last year the average high temperature for the month was 109.3 degrees according the National Weather Service. There were zero cloudy days.
Taco Bell’s news release says that The Bell will be in Palm Springs, but some people use the city’s name to describe the entire Coachella Valley. The Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau includes nine cities, from Desert Hot Springs in the north to Coachella in the East. Hotel booking websites list more than 250 lodgings in the valley, from motels to high-end golf resorts.
The City of Palm Springs has the most rooms, with an inventory of more than 1,000. The most high profile hotels are along Highway 111 in neighborhoods with names like Midtown, Twin Palms and Araby Commons.
If The Bell is within city limits, it will double Taco Bell’s presence in Palm Springs. There is only one restaurant, northwest of Palm Springs International Airport.
Taco Bell took Nacho Fries off the menu, but brought it back for a few weeks in July. Next week’s return will be a three-peat.
Nacho Fries will cost $1.29, up 29 cents from a year ago. The Dollar Cravings Menu has since mutated into the Value Cravings menu, opening the door for slightly higher prices.
Taco Bell originally promoted Nacho Fries with movie-like commercials featuring actor Josh Duhamel uncovering a conspiracy by the “burger people” to keep french fries out of the chain.
This time, Taco Bell is sending out a team of “fryologists” on “Fryday,” Jan. 18 to give out free Nacho Fries to “unsuspecting customers” nationwide. But customers probably won’t be that unsuspecting, because Taco Bell has released a list of restaurants they will visit.
What Taco Bell started in Vegas isn’t staying in Vegas.
The Irvine-based fast food chain has added a weddings page to the Taco Shop, its online merchandise site, to mark the one-year anniversary of its quickie weddings in a quick service restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip.
People can buy items there that the company says were previously only available in person at the Taco Bell Cantina Chapel, near Planet Hollywood at 3717 South Las Vegas Blvd.
For him: Gray T-shirts that say “Mr.” or “Just Married” and a hot sauce bow tie, all $20.
For her: White tanks that say “Mrs.” or Just Married and a hot sauce garter, also $20.
For the couple: A set of two, 6-ounce champagne flutes with a Las Vegas Cantina Chapel graphic, made of reusable and dishwasher-safe styrene plastic for $10.
Wedding packages are $600 at the chapel and include the above, plus the use of a hot sauce bouquet, a reception for 15 guests, tacos and a Cinnabon Delights wedding cake.
The first ceremony took place June 25, 2017, although Taco Bell didn’t launch the service until August. More than 60 couples have tied the knot since, with 25 more signed up, according to a news release.
The restaurant has renovated the restaurant and expanded its party room to hold more guests.