Juneau's fast food options shrink

Taco Bell closes, taking 25 jobs

Posted: Thursday, November 11, 2004

The only Taco Bell in Juneau closed Tuesday evening because of flat sales, ending the franchise's 19-year presence in town and further eating into Juneau's fast food choices.

"It is a business decision," said Dale Martens, president of Denali Foods Inc., the Alaska franchise of Taco Bell restaurants. "We have had low volumes in sales over the years. National brands come and go in Juneau. It is a tough market."

The store employed 25, about three-quarters in part-time positions.

About four years ago, Denali Foods shut down a Taco Bell in downtown for the same reason. The restaurant shared the storefront at the corner of Front and Seward streets with a Subway sandwich shop in a historical building that was destroyed by fire in August.

The latest closure, off Riverside Drive in the Mendenhall Valley, leaves two McDonald's locations and one Subway as nationally franchised fast food restaurants in Juneau.

Martens said he didn't know why other restaurant franchises like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut also have left Juneau. "It possibly had to do with how Juneau is divided between the valley and the downtown." Martens said. "There were two population centers. There isn't enough residential traffic in downtown."

National delivery and take-and-bake pizza chains Domino's and Papa Murphy's still operate in Juneau.

Michael Story, past president of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, said he doesn't know why certain franchises such McDonald's are doing well while some don't.

"The city can help small businesses by giving them some tax relief," Story suggested. "It might not help Taco Bell (nationwide) but it might help the franchise."

The closing came as a shock to the restaurant's customers and employees.

"It sucks," said Matthew Jilchrest, who had worked on and off at Taco Bell for three years. "If I don't have a job, I don't have a place to live."

Jilchrest, 20, said he knows of a loyal customer who will be hungry. "He came in almost every day and ordered the same thing," Jilchrest said. "When we saw him cross the street, we started preparing a chicken fiesta burrito, a bean burrito and a medium Coke. So when he came in, the food was ready."

Denali Foods Inc. runs 13 Taco Bell restaurants in the state: six in Anchorage, three in Fairbanks and one each in Eagle River, Palmer, Soldotna and Wasilla. Alaska's first Taco Bell restaurant opened in 1977 in Anchorage.

Nationwide, Taco Bell serves more than 35 million consumers each week in more than 6,500 restaurants.

The Taco Bell franchise in Juneau is about twice the normal size of Taco Bells around the nation. It boasted 120 seats and 4,235 square feet.

Wednesday the place was almost empty as furniture and equipment were moved. A red sign on the door read, "This location permanently closed. Thank you for your patronage."

Leslie Miyasato, 13, said her father would be disappointed.

"This is his favorite restaurant," she said while waiting for a bus nearby. "He tried to make tacos at home. But he wasn't very good. He even burned the shells."

Ryan Taylor, 24, said he frequented Taco Bell because it was one of the few restaurants open late. It closed at 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends.

"One less place where I could get warm food at night," Taylor said.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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