It was 8 a.m. on a Wednesday and I was sitting in a Taco Bell.
Normally, that’s not a good beginning to a story: For many, Taco Bell evokes imagery of drunks, fresh off their orgiastic tour of the local bars, sloppily devouring Cheesy Gordita Crunches at 4 a.m.
But I was brought to the Taco Bell near South Campus at 1525 N. High St. that morning by something a bit more wholesome, and the company is hoping mornings at Taco Bell will soon become more mainstream.
Starting Thursday, Taco Bell stores around the country began serving breakfast “with a Taco Bell twist,” said Will Peterson, the area coach for a Taco Bell franchise in Columbus and my personal guide to their breakfast menu.
Of the several items on the new menu — each of which is recommended to be priced in the standard Taco Bell price range of under $3 — I sampled the two items Peterson expects to be bestsellers: The waffle taco and the A.M. Crunchwrap, both served with bacon or sausage.
Full disclosure: I was not charged for the food.
I’ve heard it said before that Taco Bell’s entire menu is just seven basic ingredients configured in different ways. While that might be a hyperbole, the same can be said of their breakfast menu — although it can also be said of most fast food breakfasts.
There are eggs, there is bacon, there is sausage, there is syrup — ingredient-wise, Taco Bell’s breakfast is the same as most.
But they shaped their ingredients into tacos and burritos and Crunchwraps, so it’s new and exciting.
The waffle taco is what it sounds like: A taco-shaped waffle stuffed with eggs, cheese and your breakfast meat of choice. It tastes fine, but its portability is limited — the syrup, vital companion to an otherwise nondescript waffle, must be poured on by the customer.
If I were sitting down, I wouldn’t mind a little DIY food prep. But breakfast is often eaten on the go, and the sticky mess that is syrup prohibits properly enjoying a waffle taco en route.
For research purposes, I tried eating these items both in the store and while driving, so as to emulate the conditions under which they might be consumed. The result: There is syrup on my jeans.
Still, it wasn’t bad — not great, either, but not bad.
The A.M. Crunchwrap, on the other hand, was actually good.
Again, the premise is simple: Like the regular Crunchwrap, it’s a hexagonally-folded tortilla filled with Tex-Mex goodness. Instead of a tostada inside of a tortilla, however, it’s hash browns and a spicy jalapeno sauce, with eggs and your choice of breakfast meat stuffed in there too.
More so than the lazy idea of shaping a breakfast sandwich into a taco, the A.M. Crunchwrap is an interesting offering that feels distinct from the breakfast offerings of Taco Bell’s competitors.
That could be good or bad: The traditional offerings are working for those already in the fast-food breakfast game, like McDonald’s, and Taco Bell knows it.
“Right now, McDonald’s has breakfast on lock,” Peterson said.
Taco Bell seems to be mostly for eats after-midnight.
“When (people) think Taco Bell, they think late night,” he said. “(At 4 a.m.), the bars are closing and we’re still here.”
Increasingly, the bell’s entry into the fast-food breakfast sphere is being billed as a battle against the golden arches’ supposed dominance.
Taco Bell recently launched an ad campaign featuring several men from around the country who happened to be named “Ronald McDonald” endorsing the new breakfast menu.
The ad seems to have been well received, with a glowing review in “Forbes” and has been mentioned in other notable publications like USA TODAY and The Los Angeles Times.
The success of ads like this, along with Taco Bell’s social media presence, are part of the reason why Peterson thinks Taco Bell won’t struggle with expanding into the breakfast market.
“Taco Bell has really gotten around social media,” he said. “A lot of buzz has been generated.”
Still, Taco Bell has tried offering breakfast twice before with little success, he said.
They’re hoping the third time, which has “been in the pipeline for the past year and a half,” will be the charm, he said.
But as part of a multi-billion dollar industry, even managing a fraction of the success McDonald’s has seen in the fast-food breakfast market would be profitable for Taco Bell, Peterson said.
And apparently, Taco Bell thinks breakfast is what the people want.
“Our customers have asked us to do breakfast because there’s a sea of sameness in breakfast sandwiches,” Brian Niccol, president of Taco Bell, was quoted as saying in USA TODAY.
Peterson said Wednesday he had not heard of plans for the supposedly customer-solicited foray into breakfast to include a breakfast version of the company’s Doritos Locos tacos. Color me disappointed.
Breakfast at Taco Bell will generally begin at 7 a.m. and last until 11 a.m., but hours can vary from store to store.