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No beer here

Taco Bell will be ‘newest’ design, not ‘wettest’

Forget all the social media buzz to the contrary: There will be no beer or any other alcoholic beverages served at the new Taco Bell now under construction just off Interstate 75 at Exit 122 in Clinton.

“It will be a regular Taco Bell,” said Michael Border, chief development officer of the Birmingham-based Tacala Companies LLC, which owns the new store, as well as the existing Clinton Taco Bell at 1114 Charles G. Seviers Blvd.

“We have no plans to put a cantina there or to sell alcohol,” Border said. “We just think that’s a great location for a Taco Bell. We have another one about eight miles away in Clinton.”

The other location actually is less than four miles away, but it draws a different clientele from what’s expected at the new store. It will be at the former location of a Long John Silver’s restaurant, between the Dunkin’ Donuts and the I-75 exit ramp on the north side of North Charles G. Seivers.

The Long John Silver’s building has already been demolished and removed, and site preparation is already underway for the new Taco Bell building.

Tacala, which is one of the nation’s largest Taco Bell franchisees, operates about 270 of the restaurants across the Southeast and throughout Texas.

The “cantina” that Border mentioned is a relatively new Taco Bell concept that began with the flagship location in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2016. The Taco Bell Cantina stores are urban fast-casual restaurants with no drive-through window.

According to the Taco Bell website, the cantina restaurants feature open kitchens, custom menus with shareable appetizers, and alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, sangria and twisted Freezes.

But don’t expect a cantina in Clinton or even in East Tennessee anytime soon. While Tacala Companies opened its first Taco Bell Cantina just off the University of Texas campus in Austin in late 2016, it doesn’t plan one in this area for now, Border said.

And if it did, it probably would be near the University of Tennessee campus. But Border said that won’t be happening.

“We’ve looked at Knoxville and the UT campus area, but Knoxville is a difficult city to do business in,” Border said. “They don’t make it easy for new businesses to come in.”

Clinton does not have the demographics for a trendy urban sit-down restaurant like a Taco Bell Cantina, which Taco Bell prefers to locate in large metropolitan areas. There are several open in Chicago and New York, and the company says it eventually will have about 50 in the New York City area. The company has pledged to have 350 cantinas open across the U.S. by 2022.

Meanwhile, the new, regular, no-alcohol Taco Bell will open probably in late November in Clinton, and it will not be replacing the current location, which will remain open.

Clinton City Manager Roger Houck said city officials asked Tacala representatives about whether the new location might serve beer, and were told “no.”

“That is something we specifically asked, and they told us they had no intention to serve beer,” Houck said. “I don’t know how that rumor got started on Facebook.”

Some Facebook posters on the “I Love Clinton” page this past weekend insisted that the new Taco Bell had already applied for and been granted a beer permit. One poster on the “I Love Clinton” Facebook page was quite adamant, insisting they “got that straight from the [county] commissioner’s mouth.”

“Why would our commissioner say that,” the poster asked. “He would know before anyone.”

Another poster said that Anderson County had already approved a beer permit for the location.

But Houck, the Clinton city manager, said the new Taco Bell is inside the city limits and would need to get a beer permit from Clinton, not Anderson County.

The Clinton City Council also sits as the Clinton Beer Board, and it has not received nor approved an application for a beer permit from the Taco Bell owner, Houck said. Minutes of the Beer Board, posted on the city of Clinton website, verify that information.

Additionally, another Facebook user posting on the “I Love Clinton” page, calling herself Bethany Jenkins, says she is the manager of the new Taco Bell, and that “It will be a regular Taco Bell that will not serve alcohol at all.”