Michigan’s first Taco Bell Cantina will continue to operate sans booze — a defining feature of the chain’s spinoff urban restaurant format. The Royal Oak city commissioners voted 5-2 on Monday to deny the restaurant’s liquor license application, the Detroit Free Press reports. The franchisee plans to continue pursuing the licensing, despite city opposition.
The Taco Bell Cantina location opened at 420 S. Main St. with plated food, but none of its signature boozy slushy-style Twisted Freezes. Franchisee Dortch Enterprises had hoped to add the beverages at a later date after completing a lengthy liquor licensing transfer process. However, police came out in opposition to the liquor license transfer for the Taco Bell Cantina in February, stating that “businesses that appeal to younger crowds cause a much higher strain on police resources.”
Dortch had expressed a willingness to make concessions to the city such as ending alcohol sales by midnight and hiring additional weekend security, but commissioners said they were wary of allowing a national chain to acquire a liquor license, according to the Daily Tribune. Others objected to the Taco Bell Cantina itself, saying that it wasn’t as special or different as they had expected. “The Mexican pizzas and the Cheesy Gordita Crunch are great,” commissioner Kyle DuBoc told the Detroit Free Press. “But other than the fact that they would have served [alcoholic] slushy drinks, there would have been nothing to differentiate it from any other Taco Bell.”
Jim Rasor, a former city commissioner and an attorney for the franchisee, pointed out that other fast casual restaurants including Pieology Pizzeria were able to acquire liquor licenses in Royal Oak. “Beer and tacos — I don’t understand why that’s that big of an issue,” he says.
Reached by Eater in an email Dortch Enterprises CEO Louis Dortch, Jr. stated that the company will continue to pursue licensing. “We hope to obtain approval in the future and will revisit this with the city soon,” he says. “We may have to modify our application and plan of operation.”
Royal Oak’s Taco Bell Cantina isn’t alone in being denied a liquor license. The franchisees of a similar restaurant are suing the city of Madison, Wisconsin, for denying its liquor license.