Del Taco To Open In Fall

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You know that vacant lot directly north of the El Rancho restaurant on the Beeline? The one where a sign promising a new Sizzler restaurant stood to no ultimate avail for about five years in the late 80s and early 90s?

Well, a tenant is finally moving in. And surprise, surprise, it's not Sizzler.

Del Taco, the nation's second largest Mexican fast-food chain after Taco Bell, is now in the process of clearing the lot in order to build a locally-owned franchise that's expected to open this September, according to company public relations specialist, Barbara Caruso.

The store will be Del Taco's ninth in Arizona and 358th in the nation.

That latter number, compared to the 7,000-plus stores owned or franchised by Taco Bell, may seem fairly puny. But Caruso says that Del Taco has mounted a rear-guard action that makes it a number two to reckon with.

Part of the company's strategy is to out-taco the leader. Del Taco's Big Fat Crispy Chicken Taco is a formidable answer to Taco Bell's Gordita. And Del Taco broadens the menu by offering something the No. 1 chain doesn't: American fare such as burgers, shakes, and fries.

According to information provided by the company, the Payson franchise is part of a years-long expansion from the company's core areas in the West, with the end result expected to be a doubling in overall size and an eventual presence all the way to the southeastern United States. The company has received commitments for 255 new stores by 31 developers over the next five years its largest-ever jump in growth.

This year, Del Taco is opening about 65 new stores, most of which are franchised.

"We've had 10 years of consecutive same-store sales increases," says Caruso, who adds that fresh taste and a made-to-order menu have been key for the chain. A new line of "macho" menu items featuring extra-large portions has been completed, while a redesign of existing units has created a more festive environment for diners.

The company was formed in 1988 when Del Taco, founded as Casa del Taco in 1964 by brothers Ed and Tony Hackbarth, merged with Naugles, founded in 1970 by Richard Naugle. Chairman and CEO Kevin Moriarty and a group of investors own Del Taco.

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