Sunday, May 20, 2012

Finally Del Taco Came Back

It has been a long wait for so many of us in the South, especially in the Atlanta are. Taco nights featuring real "Del Beef", beans that actually taste like beans and cheap California-style Mexican food that actually is fit to eat had been teasing the taste buds of everyone who remembered them. In fact, it took 20 years for Del Taco to really return since the sale of the East Coast units operated by franchisee WR Grace to Taco Bell in 1992. Many of us have heard the rumors, but those failed to come to fruition. Many of us were also highly disappointed with the low quality of the Del Taco/Mrs. Winners combination units that came and fizzled in the 1995-2003 period. Not only did this damage Del Taco's image in Georgia, but it nearly put Mrs. Winners out of business.

The story of Del Taco was complex since it arrived in a very big way in 1980. While these restaurants were extremely popular, the problems started when the original company stupidly sold the rights to the name in the late 70's, leading to a big mess and a very troubled company in the early 1990's. This is how Del Taco was split into two completely different companies operating the same concept: the western one that is alive and well today and the eastern one owned by WR Grace: the one that ran the Georgia units. The eastern division also had the less common "Taco Villa". Not only did WR Grace sell out those units to what I view is far inferior Taco Bell, but many of those never actually opened as a Taco Bell due to an asbestos issue with all the buildings.

Del Taco Location in former Fazoli's in Snellville, GA. The first photo is of the Kennesaw, GA location prior to opening.

Del Taco drive-thru sign for curiosity at the Snellville, GA location.

Today, the landscape of North Georgia is littered with former Del Taco locations. One in Rome is now a Bojangles. The one in Cartersville is now a Dairy Queen. Krystal took the Acworth and Canton locations. Others have been many independent concepts. I covered the one in Cedartown awhile back that was completely abandoned (and well-preserved). These forgotten locations were not lost on the company, either, as they have made very real strides to come back to the Southeast, and this time they are not riding on the whims of franchisees to do so.

Former Del Taco in Boiling Springs, SC outside of Spartanburg. This photo was taken on June 15, 2010.

Here is a view of the building itself. Note the logo has changed somewhat since this store opened in 2009 (and closed in 2011). Photo taken June 15, 2010.

When Del Taco left the East Coast in 2003, the very last location to leave was a store in St. Simons Island, GA. This location was the only one at that point not to be a co-branded concept, and still sported the WR Grace look. When it closed, the location was replaced with a Chick-Fil-A. In 2009, franchisees John Webber and Rusty Acker were the first to bring Del Taco back, opening a location in Boiling Springs, SC along Hwy 9 outside of Spartanburg. I created a post documenting this hoping to help them promote the location. As the lone wolf in the Taco Bell wilderness, the location did well but the franchisees decided to pull up stakes and closed about a year ago. Situations like this are why Del Taco opted to reopen in Atlanta with company-owned stores. Del Taco is still seeking to return to the Spartanburg Market since that location closed.

Former first generation East Coast Del Taco in Cedartown, GA. This was the only location to remain closed years after it was abandoned in 1992. Photo taken in May 3, 2008.

While the restaurants were far darker, I found the old design more authentic and inviting than the modern concept.

Before the Boiling Springs store opened, Del Taco tried another failed co-branding experiment partnering with Captain D's in Nashville. The locations closed as quickly as they arrived, mostly due to the company seeking to permanently end co-branding concepts after the RTM disaster. Del Taco also opened locations in the Orlando market around this time as well. In addition, a franchisee in Douglasville, GA also announced a future Del Taco location that ultimately never came to fruition.

The Del Taco sign and look sported here was actually not the original look when they arrived in 1980. The original stores were lighter and brighter like they are now. This was a late 1980's redesign. The St. Simons Island, GA location was the last store open to have this look.

Last view of the old, unmodified Del Taco in Cedartown.

Now, after some rocky years financially and many setbacks, Del Taco has finally gotten serious about a return to the Southeast. Their Atlanta return came this February, and it is an ambitious one with 60 planned locations in Atlanta and Athens as well as a return to Macon. So far, Del Taco has opened two locations in the Atlanta market. Their first in Snellville was also, unfortunately, the last remaining Atlanta-area Fazoli's. The Kennesaw location, however, is brand new opening May 9th this year in a recently built-up section along Chastain Road between I-75 and I-575. Oddly, Taco Bell is opening in the former Del Taco/Mrs. Winners combination nearby. Del Taco has also purchased one of the former El Pollo Loco locations on Cobb Parkway in Smyrna and is in the process of converting it. Units in Woodstock and eastern Cobb County are also in the works.

Del Taco taking shape in the former El Pollo Loco location in Smyrna. This was one of my favorite places to eat, but Del Taco definitely tastes better and has more to offer. I once said that I wished that was a Del Taco instead. I guess I'm getting my wish.

If Del Taco meets their 60 store goal is anyone's guess, but the current results are promising. The Snellville location met and exceeded sales goals, and the Kennesaw location draws a regular crowd. Their quality is also excellent, and hopefully will stay that way. I also noted there are plans with a franchisee to expand in the Charlotte market. Franchisee Jeffrey Marx owns the Rock Hill, SC location, and he has plans to expand elsewhere in the Charlotte market eventually. My best guess is that the chance of massive expansion in the Southeast will depend first on how well Del Taco gets re-established in the Atlanta market. Should Taco Bell make a run for the border this time?

NOTE: This is an update of a post written May 29, 2009 about the bumpy road Del Taco has had in the Southeast, and also celebrating their return to Atlanta.


  1. RTM's attempt at bringing Del Taco back was disappoiting as all were co-branded with primarily Mrs. Winner's chicken, but moreso, the menu just wasn't the menu of old.
    Also since DT was added to existing Mrs Winner's, the store wasn't tweaked to provide DT's old standbys such as the El Scorcho bar of salsa and peppers to spice up a burrito or taco.

    But anytime I have Taco Bell, I'm reminded that Del Taco was much better in the 80's.

  2. I too can confirm that there is a sign up on Hwy. 92 right next to I-20. I can also state that there is a small shopping center being built in that exact same location. I belive that the hold may have something to do with all of the construction being done in the area. Right now there is no way to get into the area because they are completely changing the bridge and rebuilding the highway in that area. However, construction should be completed by this fall so maybe this is going to happen after all, we can only hope that it does. I remember the old location on Hwy.5 from when I was a kid.

  3. I never understood why the Del Taco in downtown Griffin, GA changed to a Taco Bell until reading this article! The 'coming soon' sign at I-20 exit 37 still stands as a twisted reminder of what we're missing out on. The road construction is complete, the small shopping center is done but vacant, and it's not looking good for Del Taco.

  4. South Carolina now has two Del Taco locations...the one just down the road from me in Boiling Springs [Spartanburg] and now also in Rock Hill...just over the state line from Charlotte, NC...about 90 miles NE of Spartanburg.

  5. Del taco closed down in spartanburg sc

  6. Del Taco had 2 Carrollton locations, Bankhead on the East and Maple St on the West side. The Maple Street location became Krystal it the mid-80's while Bankhead survived until the 1992 closing. Schlotzky's Deli was briefly in the Bankhead location and presently Martin's is there.

  7. Del Taco recently opened on Westheimer in Houston Tx. I am not sure if the company ever had stores in Houston in the 80's. The quality of the food was better than Taco Bell and I like the choice of french fries and hamburgers for anyone with you who might not want Mexican food. I hope we get more locations soon so we will not have to drive across town to eat at the only Houston location.

  8. Great news! I grew up with the Del Taco in Stone Mountain (Hwy 78 just east of Stone Mountain) as my favorite restaurant as a kid, and haven't eaten there in 20 years. I pass by the Smyrna location every day after work and will be sure to check it out when they open.

  9. Kennesaw open and can't be more excited. first time having DT since leaving Southern California 4 years ago.

  10. Oh my God! I'm so glad I stumbled up on your blog!

    Del Taco's in the Atlanta area!

    I'm a California native living in ATL and this just made my day. Del Taco is by no means authentic, but it's just sooooo good. Seriously considering going up to Smyrna right now for some soft tacos. But I'd have to drive the Downtown Connector. But...soft tacos! And those super-salty fries. Serious dilemma here.

  11. Anyone know anything about the East Cobb location? Marietta perhaps, Roswell Rd?

  12. Very Informative I always wondered why the Del Taco in my town closed down a couple of years after Taco Bell opened a store down the road. Especially since Del Taco had way better food and stayed busy clear until they closed.

    After that the location stayed vacant until Fazoli's took it over which I also miss. Fazolis was there for several years and was always busy up until about a year before it closed.

    Which was sad since the people were friendly, and the place was clean and the food was really good. The only reason the customers stop coming was cold (albeit good) food during its last 10 to 12 months.

  13. The Cobb Parkway store did indeed open sometime in 2012 or early 2013, and yes the food is excellent. Completely different universe from Taco Bell. It's not convenient at all for me but when I am out cruising around and want food, I tend to end up there anyway. Highly recommended.

  14. Local Columbia, SC newspaper reports that the City of Columbia Planning agenda lists a plan to open a Del Taco in a former car wash on the busy Harbison Blvd. (Northwest of Columbia).

  15. I was disappointed and confused when the menu was different than I remembered. I grew up eating at the Del Taco on Hwy 78. Now I understand the difference. Thanks for the information.

  16. Just a heads up theres a Del Taco opening up very soon, if its not already open on Harbison :D Website no longer says coming soon

  17. I worked at the one in Cedartown Ga. it shut down in 1992, the year I graduated from High school. Then I was transferred to the one in Rome, ga until it closed the same year. I have lots of memories there. It was my very first job as a 16 year old and I worked there until my senior year. I still drive by it as it sits there as an abandoned building.