BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When Jim Dandar learned that Waterville’s first Taco Bell was set to open on October 24, he made a plan.
“I wanted to be the first one. It’s kind of a feather in your cap,” said the Waterville resident and Air Force veteran.
Seeing a packed parking lot for a “Friends and Family Night” on October 23, he stopped in and chatted with two employees at the door – who let him in to grab a bite to eat and find out when he should arrive in order to be customer No. 1.
Arriving a few minutes before 7:00 a.m. the next morning, Dandar was dismayed to find that the door was locked. The 26-seat lobby, it turns out, doesn’t open until 9:00 a.m., so he got in line for the drive-thru and ordered a breakfast crunch wrap and a coffee.
“During the day, I wondered if I could be the last one for the day,” he said.
With intel from an employee, he drove through the line at 10:45 p.m. – only to have two cars follow him.
“I drove through without ordering and came back around,” Dandar laughed. “The kid working there said, ‘Oh, cool dude.’ He thought it was hilarious and said it would look great on a resume. I’m the alpha and the omega – the first and the last.”
The opening day for Taco Bell brought in more than 500 customers, said general manager Amanda Culvert, who welcomed members of the Waterville Area Chamber of Commerce for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 25.
“Everyone has been so excited,” said Culvert, who most recently managed the Napoleon Taco Bell. “I’m looking forward to having the community coming in and feeding them.”
Mayor Tim Pedro, who welcomed representatives from G-Made Restaurants Franchise of Taco Bell, explained that Taco Bell was originally founded by Glen Bell in California in 1962 but now has over 7,000 locations and 350 franchisees.
“We’re so glad that you’re here in Waterville – this is one of the newest Taco Bells in the world,” Pedro said, before biting into an extra-cheesy quesadilla in front of a crowd.
Matt Arthur, G-Made president, said his team had been eyeing Waterville for a long time but had to work out an agreement with other franchisees in the market area before purchasing the 1.14-acre parcel near the corner of Dutch Road and the Anthony Wayne Trail.
Located at 6521 Hutchinson Dr. – an access road that is parallel to the Trail – the restaurant is a little different from most, with a smaller dining room and larger-capacity kitchen that has three separate food lines to handle delivery, drive-thru and counter customers.
“We’ll probably do about 80-percent drive-thru, but it’s typically 70/30,” Arthur said.
On the first night, the Taco Bell had $168 in delivery sales with six orders, he said.
When fully staffed, the Taco Bell will have 30 to 35 employees keeping the restaurant open from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Culvert anticipates that the store will eventually remain open until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.
The most popular menu items are the chicken quesadilla and the Crunch Wrap Supreme.
“My kids love the crunch wrap because it comes with nacho cheese instead of regular cheese. It has beef and cheese with a crunchy shell in the middle, and sour cream, lettuce and tomato folded in a tortilla,” Culvert said. “It’s easy to eat when you’re driving.”
Bryan Knepper, a Waterville resident, invited his friends from F3 Fitness-Fellowship-Faith to join him for lunch after the ribbon-cutting. The men usually meet before dawn to work out together, but this event was special.
“I made this an event because I go to Taco Bell every day. I might as well get the guys to go with me,” said Knepper, who was joined by F3 member Billy Stark and Anthony Wayne Regional Chamber of Commerce member Zak Weimer.
The three sang praises for the meaty grilled cheese, steak and bacon burrito.
“It’s basically everything fattening in one,” Knepper laughed.
While Laylah Lovejoy’s mom packed her a lunch on Wednesday, she didn’t get a chance to eat it. Her dad, chamber member Chris Lovejoy, picked the fourth-grader up from Waterville Primary School early to take her to the dentist’s office. First, they stopped by Taco Bell.
“I said, ‘Dad, this is not the dentist’s office!’” said Laylah, who was excited to order her favorites: tacos and chips and queso.
As a student council member, she was interested to learn that her predecessors on student council nearly a decade ago had lobbied then-Mayor Lori Brodie and then-council member Tim Pedro to bring a Taco Bell to town. Last week, their wishes came true.