Best Job Ever: Taco Bell Architect
When you think about jobs you could have at Taco Bell, an architect might not be your first thought. But those beautiful restaurants you see from the drive-thru don’t just design themselves, a team of people are constantly imagining how to make Taco Bell's restaurants better for our customers and team members. Meet Christina Hernandez, one of Taco Bell’s in-house brand architects and designers. Christina is one of the architects behind Taco Bell’s recently opened flagship restaurant in Las Vegas and our new Urban Inline and Cantina restaurants.
We sat down with Christina to learn more about her and how she landed one of the Best Jobs Ever at Taco Bell Corporate.
Question: So, for those who don’t know, what is architecture and what does it mean to be an architect at Taco Bell?
Christina Hernandez: Architecture is the study of building design, as well as the practice of designing and constructing buildings. Being an architect at Taco Bell means thinking outside the box, being innovative and being unique when it comes to designing the interior and exterior of Taco Bell’s restaurants. For me, being an architect is the opportunity to be creative. It gives me the opportunity to draw, whether digitally or putting pen to paper, to imagine spaces three dimensionally, and then see that vision come to life. It also gives me the opportunity to work with our franchisees and consultants to inform on the proposed design for specific locations in my region.
Q: When did you realize your passion for architecture and design?
CH: My dad is an architect so it was always kind of in the family. Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be an architect. I love to draw and build things, so I knew I wanted to do something in the design field. After some architectural drafting classes in high school, I realized I loved it and wanted to pursue it professionally.
Q: Where did you study?
CH: I went to Woodbury University in Burbank, California and got my Bachelors of Architecture. Right after that I went to the University of California Los Angeles to get my Masters of Architecture. I love school. I’m definitely a nerd, so getting my masters was the logical next step.
Q: What kind of job experiences did you have prior to Taco Bell?
CH: Prior to Taco Bell I was working at smaller boutique architectural firms. After college, I worked in high-end residential design for celebrity homes and then that turned into another job opportunity doing commercial retail design. I found my way to Taco Bell when they were looking for a Spanish speaking brand architect who had commercial, restaurant and retail experience to design international Taco Bell restaurants. My mom always told me it would pay off to speak Spanish!
Q: What does a typical work day at Taco Bell look like for you?
CH: It varies so much! As an architect, I do everything from helping to sketch and design new restaurant spaces with Taco Bell’s operations, marketing and engineering teams to coordinating all of the design details inside and outside the restaurant with our in-house design team. From the flooring, to the furniture, to the artwork on the walls, designers are challenged to create all the design details that make up the restaurant experience. It’s a complete team effort though.
Q: What kind of projects are you currently designing at Taco Bell?
CH: We recently opened our 7,000th restaurant, Taco Bell’s flagship location in Las Vegas, which has been my baby for the past year. It’s exciting to see it finally open and operating successfully. So now, I’m focused on working alongside my awesome team members and franchisees to develop our Taco Bell Urban Inline and Cantina restaurants as they expand into multiple areas around the country. The Urban Inlines and Cantinas are our newer restaurant designs that focus on bringing customers out of the drive-thru and inside the restaurant.
Q: What is the difference between an Urban Inline vs. a Cantina and where can we find these restaurants?
CH: Urban Inline restaurants have no drive thru, localized designs and artwork, an open kitchen, digital menu boards, and a "Shareable Menu” with unique menu items not found at your regular Taco Bell. Cantina restaurants have all of the same qualities as Urban Inlines, but they serve alcohol. Currently, there are five Cantinas operating in the United States, which you can find in Chicago, Austin, San Francisco and our flagship restaurant in Las Vegas. We also have Urban Inline locations in New York City and Atlanta. Currently, our team is exploring 20 future Urban Inlines and Cantinas that are in different stages of development around the country.
Q: How do you stay true to the Taco Bell brand while being innovative when designing restaurants?
CH: We’re always designing restaurants by tapping into what we’ve done in the past and using it as our inspiration. As a brand, we’re not afraid to push the boundaries and be the first to try new things. Many of our restaurants are designed with our original mission style restaurants in mind, but we also like to innovate and customize each Taco Bell to the area it’s located in. No city is the same, so our new restaurant concepts are presented in multiple styles to fit in with their location.
Q: What’s next for Taco Bell and its restaurant designs?
CH: We’re looking at how to maximize the efficiency of Taco Bell’s kitchens and the equipment used in them, making our kitchens a more comfortable place to work for our team members. We’re also looking at using more sustainable features and reclaimed materials in our restaurants, as well as reducing energy consumption. Our team is continuing to transform the interior of our restaurants to make dining inside the restaurant an even better experience for consumers. For example, we’re opening up our kitchens to be more visible to people inside the restaurant, putting our team members on stage with a sense of pride and enthusiasm while also showcasing your food being prepared right in front of you. Quick service restaurants like Taco Bell have been defined in a certain way for so long, and we want to break that mold.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring architects?
CH: Have a voice. Be passionate in everything you do. Stay relevant by being open to learning about new concepts and trends. Remember to listen and always learn from your mistakes and your peers. Make sure that at the end of the day, you love what you do.
Q: Solid advice, Christina. Last question. Why is your job the best job ever?
CH: Tacos! We get to eat tacos all day. Just kidding, although the food is honestly a great perk of working at Taco Bell. Shout out to our food innovation team! I love my job because I get to be creative, work with talented people and travel all over the world. Taco Bell is great because there’s so much flexibility and you have the ability to define your job and its purpose. If I have an interest in operations or construction, or something that could help me become a better architect and designer, I can explore it and Taco Bell supports that. The opportunities here are endless.
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