When Taco Bell Cantina opened up its New Haven location at 956 Chapel St. at 10 a.m. on Friday, Yale students and New Haven residents flocked to the highly anticipated opening.
Unique from other Taco Bell franchises, the Cantina iteration serves beer, wine, sangria and spiked slushies. In addition, the Cantina has an expansive store layout and a more elaborate restaurant menu, and it is open until 3 a.m. on weekends.
“This is a very new development to Taco Bell,” New Haven store manager Jackie Boisvert told the News. “[Cantina iterations] have been really successful in other cities throughout the country. New Haven’s is the first one in New England, and it’s a perfect city for it because of its high foot traffic.”
The location is owned by Cantina Hospitality — a Greenwich-based Taco Bell and Applebee’s franchise — which signed a 10-year lease for 956 Chapel St. Boisvert said that if the business is successful, Cantina Hospitality hopes to open several more in the state.
According to Boisvert, the store has 49 employees, many of whom were transferred from other Taco Bell locations around Connecticut.
In an email to the News, a Taco Bell spokesperson said Taco Bell opened its first Cantina restaurant in Chicago three years ago. Since then, more urban inline stores have opened in other cities across the country — including San Francisco, New York and Atlanta. The restaurant is similar to normal Taco Bells in that customers order at a register, but the kitchen in Cantina locations is visible to customers and there is no drive-thru. Because big cities do not allow for drive-thrus, they are key to developers. Thus, Taco Bell franchisers target areas with high pedestrian activity.
Boisvert said that by lunchtime on the day of its opening, 11 percent of sales were from alcohol alone. The restaurant, which faces the New Haven Green, will introduce new bar selections based on customer feedback, according to Boisvert.
The Cantina menu features everyone’s favorite Taco Bell items, along with items that are exclusive to Cantinas, such as Twisted Freezes, empanadas and cinnamon twists. The restaurant also delivers food with Grubhub, Seamless and DoorDash in participating cities.
Natalie DeWitt ’21 praised the Elm City’s new business, which she visited on Saturday night.
“It was a fun lively atmosphere even at 1:30 a.m.,” Dewitt told the News. “It’s huge, incredibly clean and actually has a really nice ambiance.”
DeWitt said that a lot of people were drinking alcoholic slushies and attendees seemed to enjoy Chapel Street’s latest addition. DeWitt said the Cantina does not resemble other Taco Bells she has been to, and she is really excited that the new iteration has come to New Haven.
Though last Thursday was National Taco Day, the new Taco Bell location was still closed. However, Boisvert said the store gave out free food to those who tried to walk in.
“Word spread quick, and we had a ton of people coming in. That definitely helped with business when we officially opened on Friday,” she said.
The Taco Bell Cantina is open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Thursday, and is open one hour later on Friday and Saturday.
Caroline Moore | firstname.lastname@example.org