Years in the making, Taco Bell arrives in Sweet Home

Benny Westcott

A number of years in the making, Taco Bell opened shortly after Christmas on Main Street in Sweet Home, just west of Safeway.

Lines of cars filled with fans of affordable burritos have already been frequenting the location’s drive-thru.

According to Sweet Home Community and Economic Development Director Blair Larsen, the property owner of the 1502 Main Street site, John Whittaker out of Eugene, had been working with the Vancouver, Wash.-based Pacific Bells for a while to get the site up to where it needed to be for a long term-deal. Pacific Bells owns more than 270 Taco Bell restaurants. The company opened its first Taco Bell in Tualatin around 1986.

Larsen called the opening a great sign.

“Our population is officially over 10,000 now,” he said. “That brings us into a different category not only for a lot of government work, but for a lot of private businesses as well. I think that it’s probably a sign of more to come, and I think that we have the land and the business activity to justify it. We’re looking forward to it.”

He said it was a confluence of factors that led to Taco Bell coming to Sweet Home.

“Initially, it was the traffic and demographics, and I think they wanted to be here for quite a while,” Larsen explained. “They identified that corner specifically as the best option for them. Everything after that was just getting everything to fall in place for that location to work.”

He explained that the project’s movers and shakers did a lot of number-crunching before moving forward.

“With places like this, demographics are king,” Larsen said. “Demographics are what they pay attention to. They look at the number of people within a certain radius and the traffic that a road gets. All of those factors are what really drive whether they’re going to choose one location over another.”

Once the numbers are deemed suitable for a franchise to open at a location, it’s smooth sailing from there, Larsen explained.

“By the time it gets to the city for approval, they’ve basically determined that this location is the best fit for them, and they basically do whatever is necessary to make it work,” he said. “They’re fairly easy for cities to work with because they just want to comply with all the rules you have in place and they do what’s necessary.”

He said that a franchise tends to speak louder economic development-wise than a mom and pop taco shop.

“You could have a restaurant that is not a franchisee, that is just a locally owned shop, and it could be doing the same amount of business. But a franchise comes in and does that, and because it’s a national franchise, it has more weight in certain circles, because everybody who deals with them knows that that company has done their homework in choosing to locate there.”

He said that “The mom-and-pop shop is located there because of their community that they love, and they do business there because they live there. That’s great, and we want to encourage that. But the other businesses don’t care about that part. They’re looking at the people who choose to come there instead, and they’re looking at why.”

Larsen predicts that the Taco Bell will yield a net increase in local jobs.

“It is increased competition for some restaurants, but I don’t think it’s going to decrease significantly anybody else’s business,” he said. “From what I understand, you already had a bunch of people that were driving into Lebanon to go to Taco Bell. Basically, those people are going to stay in Sweet Home instead of going to Lebanon, which is a good thing for us.”