Sweet Home has its 6th fast-food joint and people are lining up

Sweet Home lined up to greet and eat at a newly opened Taco Bell on Thursday, Dec. 29, the sixth major fast-food restaurant for the population on the verge of 10,000 people.

Errolyn Bauer said she’d seen a Taco Bell before.

“Oh, yeah — all over California. In Lebanon,” Bauer said.

But the cheap burrito faithful now can drive from Blodgett, in western Benton County, to Cascadia in the Cascade foothills on Highway 20 without being more than 20 minutes from a Taco Bell.

Taco Bell Bauer

Errolyn Bauer, left, leaves a new Taco Bell restaurant Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Sweet Home.

And the Taco Bell at 1502 Main St. is in her hometown, Bauer said.

“It just opened. We wanted to see what it’s like,” said Barbara Hagans, who ate lunch with Bauer.

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Hagans had just consumed a crunchy taco, she said. Bauer had a chicken chalupa. 

About a dozen cars lined up for a drive-thru lane Thursday afternoon and made their way, a bagful of fried — or refried — food at a time, past the city’s newest restaurant.

A manager at the restaurant told Mid-Valley Media they wouldn’t permit interviews or photography in the location without clearance from the Taco Bell corporate company.

But workers were lined up at stainless steel work surfaces, chattering and slanging food to keep the cars moving. Coordinated condiments and tortilla wraps flowed along the countertops and out the window.

“Sour on the side!” said one. “Can I get a bean on drive?” asked another.

Balloons in corporate purple and black clung to surfaces in the dining room. Tiny taco-shaped piñatas were positioned throughout the building.

Taco Bell Detour

Signs routed cars around a parking lot at a new Taco Bell restaurant, near Safeway on Highway 20, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Sweet Home.

Outside, Bauer pointed to the west. Until Taco Bell opened, there was only A&W and Dairy Queen.

Hagans reminded her there’s a Taco Time to the east. And, yeah, they conceded, Subway counts as fast food.

And there’s a McDonald’s.

And anyway, both Bauer and Hagans said, what Sweet Home really needs is another “really nice restaurant.” The city has only one, they said in unison — “The Point.”

But more franchises mean expanding local employment. They also signal that nationwide corporate-backed chains are willing to bet on Sweet Home’s burgeoning population.

Taco Bell Line

After an initial lunch rush, traffic moved smoothly in the line for the drive-through window at a new Taco Bell restaurant on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022, in Sweet Home.

Kelcey Young, city manager, said the Taco Bell is a good sign for Sweet Home.

“While it’s been a little under-looked in the past, I think people are starting to realize its charm and its natural amenities,” she said of the city.

Economic analysis showed Sweet Home has room and need for more hotels, restaurants and retail stores, Young said. Numbers were not immediately available.

But the city is just about between Newport and Bend, where more tourists are traveling from Central Oregon to the coast.

“We’re an ideal stopping point,” Young said.

And service jobs will be needed while Sweet Home adds housing.

Statisticians think the city will tip over the 10,000-mark for the first time in the next year or two, by 2025. The city’s population lives in about 3,900 households with a median income of about $47,200.

Lebanon’s median household income is about $48,900; Corvallis, $58,300; and Albany’s was about $65,600.

Vancouver, Washington-based franchisee Pacific Bells approached Sweet Home’s planning commission in March seeking approval for a six-car drive-thru lane.

Pacific Bells, not to be confused with The Pacific Bell Telephone Co. that once operated in the Northwest, owns more than 270 Taco Bell restaurants. The company opened its first Taco Bell in Tualatin around 1986.

Orangewood Partners, a New York private equity firm, acquired the franchise in 2021, adding Pacific’s holdings to its fleet of 32 Taco Bell restaurants operated in the Louisville, Kentucky area by another franchisee called ABTB.

Founder Alan Goldfarb told private equity industry analysis publication PE Hub that Pacific Bells is “a ‘prized asset within the Taco Bell system.’”

On its website, Orangewood describes itself as a growth capital investor. Orange targets holdings worth $25 to $100 million each year in equity, buying up controlling or partial stakes in established companies.

Alex Powers (he/him) covers business, environment and healthcare for Mid-Valley Media. Call 541-812-6116 or email [email protected].

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