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Taco Bell With Booze Should Have Bouncer, Midnight Last-Call, Group Says

By Alisa Hauser | June 4, 2015 3:47pm

A design rendering for a new Taco Bell, 1439 N. Milwaukee Ave. [Taco Bell Corp.]

WICKER PARK —  The operator of a Taco Bell that could be the first in the United States to serve alcohol has met with resistance from an alderman and members of a neighborhood group, who would like the spot to considering hiring a private security guard and end all sales of beer, wine and mixed-alcohol slushies by midnight.

Raymond Valadez, chief of staff for Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), told a group of 40 residents at a neighborhood group meeting on Wednesday in the park field house, 1425 N. Damen Ave., that the liquor license, applied for by Taco Bell on May 6, is "not a done deal."

"This is very important. It could set the precedent for the rest of the city, especially if it is successful," said Valadez, who added that the 45-day window for public comment to express support or objections to the license will end in 7 days.

Moreno is seeking to create a special plan of operation that would "list the limits that would need to be abided by," Valadez said, including hours of operation.

Alisa Hauser says they'll be selling beer and boozy slushies:

Lincolnshire-based Taco Bell franchisee Neil Borkan's plans for 1439 N. Milwaukee Ave., set to open sometime this summer, include serving draft beer, three types of wine and 16-ounce mixed-alcohol frozen "slushies," which would contain either one ounce of vodka, tequila or rum. 

The ounces would be dispensed in a measured formula, so no pour would exceed 1 ounce.  The menu would be mostly the same as a regular Taco Bell with some new appetizers, Borkan said at the meeting.

Rob Poetsch, a Taco Bell spokesman, all assured the crowd that the new Taco Bell, which is about 2,000 square feet and offers less than 60 seats, would be well run.

"This store will have a lot of attention from Taco Bell corporate, we're not going to let it get run down, or be organized poorly," Poetsch said.

(l.) Leah Root holds up photos of the proposed Taco Bell as Rob Poetsch, right, explains the concept. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]

Borkan plans to hire Bars, a compliance company that does "mystery shopping" to ensure alcohol is served correctly. There would be different colored cups for drinks with alcohol, too.

 William D. O’Donaghue, Borkan's lawyer, maintained that legally Taco Bell could stay open and serve liquor until 2 a.m. But Mika Stambaugh, spokesman for the city's department of business affairs and consumer protection, said under a special plan of operation designation, restricted hours could be applied.

Borkan did not share pricing for the alcohol drinks. Poetsch said the average per-person spend at most Taco Bells is $7, though the majority are drive-throughs and in rural or suburban areas, he said.

When asked if patrons would be required to buy food in order to drink, Borkan said, "We do not anticipate someone will come in and order a 16-ounce drink only."

A prolific franchisee, Borkan operates nearly 40 Taco Bells, mostly in the suburbs.

When asked why Wicker Park was selected as the location for the new concept, Borkan said, "You've got a great, growing community, great demographics and you are all doing really well. They [Taco Bell corporate] settled on Wicker Park because they thought it was the best place."

Poetsch described the new urban design concept as "anything but a typical Taco Bell" and said the brand is evolving from "food as fuel to food as experience."

O'Donaghue said adding a security guard is "a reasonable request."

After the meeting, Leah Root, president of the Wicker Park Committee, said that the consensus from the group is that the Taco Bell should have guard at the door and by an informal show-of hands consensus, members would like Borkan to end liquor sales at 10 p.m. weekdays and midnight on weekends.

Reactions from residents were mixed.

Alfred Mojica, a longtime member of the group, said, "I am completely against the liquor license. You are working against so many businesses that also have tacos. We are surrounded by tacos. It just doesn't work."

Teddy Varndell, another longtime resident, said, "Remember we agreed to serve grilled cheese and whiskey on a roof, we've already lowered the bar," referring to the Cheesie's Pub and Grub and Whiskey Business, also opening this summer about one block south.

Once open, the fast food restaurant will join a host of taco options already settled into the neighborhood, including Antique Taco, 1360 N. Milwaukee Ave;  Kokopelli, 1324 N. Milwaukee Ave., Authentaco, 1141 N. Ashland Ave; La Pasadita, 1140 N. Ashland Ave. and the forthcoming hybrid eatery BAOCOS.

Taco Bell also sits within a block of Rick Bayless' Xoco, which serves tacos and other Mexican fare at 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave., and a few blocks from Big Star, 1531 N. Damen Ave.

A design rendering for a new Taco Bell, 1439 N. Milwaukee Ave. [Taco Bell Corp.]

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