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14 Things I Learned at the Grand Opening of the Taco Bell of the Future

Media gathered Monday to learn about the world's first Taco Bell Defy, a double-decker T-Bell that zips you contactless Crunchwraps.

Jay Boller|


I was among a chosen group of bold watchdog journalists who were invited to see the world's first Taco Bell Defy restaurant Monday. The drive-thru/takeout-exclusive concept officially debuted today at 5931 94th Ave. N. in Brooklyn Park. Here are my findings:

'It's an industry game-changing experience'

According to Lee Engler, the CEO of New Hope-based Taco Bell franchisee Border Foods. The first-of-its-kind Taco Bell Defy concept, which boasts four touchless drive-thru lanes and a small takeout lobby, is Border's 230th restaurant and, to hear some tell it, the future of fast food. Minneapolis-based "disruptive solutions consultancy" Vertical Works helped engineer the two-story conveyer system that sends chalupas from the heavens into your CRV faster than ever.

It Took 45 Minutes of Driving to Get There and Back

Subscribe to Racket to help offset the cost! Gas, unlike Taco Bell, ain't cheap.

I'm Still Not Interested in Car Culture Debates that May Arise from Taco Bell Defy

We live in the stupidest country on Earth, and Taco Bell is tasty, dumb, and fun. Live a little. Hell, live mas. (Pedestrians and bicyclists are welcome to use the drive-thru lanes.)

Dreaming Up the Tech Was the Most Fun Mike Strommen Has Had In 26 Years

The Vertical Works co-founder said as much as the press assembled in the suburban parking lot. Strommen was joined by his partner, co-founder Josh Hanson, and Engler.

The Media Horde Took Its Job Very Seriously

Ironic detachment was in short supply today at the Taco Bell Defy. Dutiful and serious, my fellow reporters were deeply invested in the logistics, business potential, and novelty of dropping tacos down a tube.

The Media Horde Was Sadly Not Bribed with Taco Bell

While I can't be bought, journalistically speaking, I can be enticed to eat freebie food that will in no way influence my coverage of Taco Bell or parent company Yum! Brands, both of whom are likely evil in at least several capacities.

Retro Pneumatic Tubes Were Not Considered

I cornered the Vertical Works fellas by the deep fryers and asked, unprompted, whether pneumatic tubes—those glassy, whooshing throwbacks to the golden age of banking—were considered for taco transport.

"Not enough control," Stommen told me. "If we could've used that same technology it would've saved a lot time."

"It'd be a mess for soft drinks," Hanson said of pneumatic tubes carrying food/drink.

Instead, Vertical Conveyer Belt Tech Is Used

Hanson mentioned something genuinely interesting about how the serving trays are sanitized in real-time, but I was still pretty shook up about the lack of pneumatic tubes and, thus, couldn't transcribe what he said.

Before the Food Is Sent on Its Journey, It's Housed In a Fashion that Resembles the Dino Egg Incubators from Jurassic Park


I Asked the Toughest Question

As Engler smacked softball Q after softball Q outta the Taco Bell Defy, I came with the heat: What'd you learn from the customer blowback after you briefly removed potatoes from the menu? Scenes from the Frost vs. Nixon debate surely flickered in the minds of my fellow reporters.

"We listened to our fanbase," Engler said. "We're a servant to their desires. It's like what happened with Mexican Pizza."

Welp, I'm satisfied!

Taco Shells Are Fragile


Some Other Guy Asked the Goofiest Question

"Is this thing gonna hold up in the winter?" the reporter and/or camera guy asked of the food chute. (It will, we were assured.)

My Tevas Sandals Possibly Offended Engler

As we descended the staircase toward the live drive-thru demo, Engler remarked: "You know it's media preview day when we allow open-toed shoes in the kitchen." I chuckled nervously, unsure whether the executive was genuinely upset by my comfortable summertime footwear. Perhaps he was still rattled by the hard-charging potato question. This is not the first time my Tevas have impacted my reporting. During our 24 hours in Uptown last summer, a bouncer at Pourhouse denied me entry to the club, citing the improper (in his mind at least...) choice of shoes.

The Successful Demo Was Quite Funny

Steely-eyed members of the Fourth Estate stood, notepads and cameras hoisted, as some guy in a silver sedan drove from the ordering touch-screen to the receiving pillar where his bag of Taco Bell sat alongside half-filled beverages. I remarked that it felt like a shuttle launch; the amiable PR rep chuckled, apologizing for the lack of a countdown.

Taco Bell Defy officially opens to the public June 7.

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