A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a public relations firm inviting me to visit Taco Bell’s corporate headquarters and test kitchen to meet with the team that developed the Volcano Sauce and to tour their facilities. I immediately thought this was a cruel, sick joke until they actually sent me confirmation of my flight. I wasn’t sure what to think. Taco Bell wanted to fly me all the way to California, take me out to dinner, shack me up in a hotel for the night, then tour me through their corporate headquarters? That sounded great to me. I was in.
My first flight was a 39 minute flight from Detroit to Chicago in one of the smallest planes I have ever seen. After that, it was a straight shot from Chicago to the John Wayne Airport in Orange County. I hopped on the shuttle to the hotel and as we were pulling in, I noticed this corporate Mexican hacienda:
I kind of assumed Taco Bell’s corporate office would be an enormous building, but this was practically a city. What’s inside of the building, you ask? Well, lots and lots of Taco Bell. Seriously, Taco Bell is everywhere. It’s kind of surreal. All the workers I saw at lunch had Taco Bell bags filled with food. I figured they would want to venture out and eat something that doesn’t have to do with their daily work, but no. They all eat Taco Bell. Another thing that surprised me is that the majority of their workforce isn’t a bunch of grossly overweight slobs who pack on the calories from Grilled Stuffed Burritos and Crunch Wrap Supremes. Their employees seem to be young, in shape, and not bad looking at all. There’s even a workout facility on the main floor. While exercising after eating a full meal of Taco Bell is the closest thing to Hell that I can imagine, I was impressed. Oh Taco Bell, how you surprise me. It didn’t end there…
We started with a brief history of the company in the “history” room. This room consists of a time line of Taco Bell’s history, complete with food models of the different menu items served throughout the years. Taco Bell was started by a white guy named Señor Glen “Pancho” Bell in 1962 and began franchising the brand by 1964. I was surprised to learn that the brand was sold to PepsiCo in 1978 and combined with KFC and Pizza Hut to form the Yum! brand. That’s some serious cashflow right there.
We then moved on to to the test kitchen where all of the magic happens. This is the only test kitchen for Taco Bell in the entire country which surprised me a bit. This was a pretty large area, but the kitchen is basically set up like any Taco Bell you would normally visit. We met two women (remembering names is not one of my strong suits) who control most of the food and marketing innovation for the company. They walked us through the development of the volcano sauce and other temporary or test items. I’m not going to type out all the details, but I will tell you that a hell of a lot of thought goes into those tacos and burritos you eat.
They explained to us that the Volcano sauce was developed to appeal to people who like a little kick and people like me who enjoy a good burn. They tested many different ingredients including hot sauce, spicier meat and spicy cheese, but ended up going with the cheesy hot sauce. We didn’t get much insight on what actually goes into the sauce, but they did mention most of the heat comes from red jalapeno peppers. The Volcano sauce is a politely spicy nacho cheese which I previously thought was the fire sauce mixed with the nacho sauce. I stood corrected when they told us that the Volcano sauce is twice as hot as their fire sauce, which makes sense because Taco Bell’s fire sauce is about as hot as ketchup. You’ll want to just eat it as is because Taco Bell does not really offer anything hotter. I only wish they offered the sauce in a sauce pack. I’d be stocking up on them for eating at home.
Taco Bell has been introducing temporary items, what seems like monthly, for the past few years. This always struck me as a genius idea because if something really catches on they can make it a permanent menu item. They introduced the Crunch Wrap Supreme a while ago which seemed more like a bet between Taco Bell executives than an actual menu item.
“Greg, there’s no way people will eat a tortilla folded up with taco parts and nacho cheese inside of it”.
After becoming a hugely popular item, Taco Bell decided to keep it on the menu. Apparently this is the second most popular menu item now, only trailing the hard taco. This leads me to wonder what the hell is the matter with people? About a year ago the Volcano Taco came out to great reception from customers, including myself. For some reason, the Volcano sauce was removed and customers began doing what all betrayed consumers do now, the modern day version of taking it to the streets. They created Facebook groups. Needless to say, Taco Bell was forced to bring Volcano Sauce back as a permanent item.
You wouldn’t believe what Taco Bell tastes like when prepared by someone who knows what they’re doing. Gone was the one bite of too much meat, followed by a second bite of too much rice. Everything was evenly distributed and delicious. The new Volcano Double Beef Burrito is delicious, but I still think they should have used a red tortilla that closely resembles Ronald McDonald’s hair color. To top it off, we washed down the Volcano sauce with the new, delicious Pina Colada Frutista Freeze.
We were allowed to ask as many questions as we wanted, and got what seemed like honest answers.
Oh, and we got to make our own Taco Bell creations. Like an idiot I ate breakfast before the event, or I would have eaten through the entire test kitchen. Look out for the John Moors original Volcano Quesadilla. It might be the greatest Taco Bell food item ever.
All in all, the trip was a great time and I can’t thank Taco Bell enough for the opportunity. The Bell has always represented a delicious alternative to McDonalds and Burger King, so they will always have a place in my heart.