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Candace Renalls, Forum News Service, Published September 16 2013

Remodeled Taco Bell in Duluth one of first to retire 'laugh-out-loud' look

DULUTH, Minn. - A Taco Bell here isn’t just sporting a new look. It’s a design that Taco Bells across the country will take on in coming years.

The Duluth restaurant, which first opened in 1994, is among the first of nearly 6,000 Taco Bell restaurants to get a makeover that’s key to the chain’s rebranding at age 50.

In Duluth, the restaurant’s new sleek, modern, minimalist design replaces an old-school, bright-colored Southwestern mission look. Now it sports shades of tan, with backlit aluminum slats that take on a purplish glow at night. The remodeled interior also is modern and more inviting, with counter seating, high-top tables and booths where customers can sit awhile.

The redesign is part of the fast food chain’s revamping in an effort to become more relevant, Don Roberts, the chain’s concept development director, has said. That reinvention began last year with changes to its Tex Mex menu that included its successful new Doritos Locos Tacos line and a “Cantina” menu with healthier offerings.

Roberts has described the change as going from “laugh-out-loud” to “more neutral with an explorer attitude.”

The Duluth restaurant at 1031 W. Central Entrance, across from Miller Hill Mall, is part of the first phase of 40 restaurants to get the new look, according to Taco Bell company representatives.

The restaurant closed in July for remodeling, though it kept the drive-through going until early August.

The 40-day project, done by Johnson-Wilson Constructors in Duluth, was a total makeover, inside and out, and topped off with new signage. The angled clay tile roof and orange curved front façade were removed and the restaurant was given a simple box shape that will make future design changes easier to do. The entire interior was redone with new ceilings, flooring and wall coverings, remodeled bathrooms and an updated kitchen, workers said.

The drive-through reopened in late August, with the restaurant following in early September.

The new design was one of three tested last year — in Sanger, Tex., Redwood City, Calif., and Commerce City, Colo. All three designs are more subdued and contemporary than the old Taco Bell look, with a variety of seating configurations inside.

Apparently corporate officials couldn’t decide which they liked best. All will be used.

“Franchises are able to choose from these three prototypes depending on the needs of their market when building a new location or remodeling an existing one,” company representatives said via e-mail. “The new look reflects our updated branding and the ‘Live Mas’ brand essence.”

Plans are for most to offer free Wi-Fi, but the Duluth Taco Bell doesn’t have that, at least not yet. It’s owned by Border Foods, a franchise organization based in Golden Valley, Minn.

“We are excited that Border Foods Inc. decided to remodel the Duluth location in support of this brand refresh helping us move from food as fuel to food as experience,” the company said.

There’s no time frame for all the Taco Bell restaurants to be remodeled or rebuilt with the new look