Tara's Food Notebook

Drive-Thru Comfort Food

Memories, tacos and the power of a brand.

Earlier this week, I was driving home after a long day of work into a wintery sunset. I was rocking out in my minivan to this. Suddenly I remembered that the next morning was my daughter's "snack day" at preschool! Over the weekend I had meant to melt chocolate, dip pretzels into it and make some great memories in the process. Whoops.

So I knew I had to get to Kiedrowski's Bakery in Amherst, OH, and hope they were still open. I picked up my daughter at my mom's house. My little brother Marty could sense I was a little panicked, so he agreed to go with me. As I nosed the minivan into what I thought was a parking spot in the slushy snow, I heard the reassuring sound of polka music blasting outside the bakery (still open!) and my daughter chose two dozen snowman cookies. Working Mom's Special.

Back in the car, the snow was falling onto the windshield in the form of fluffy little snowballs and it was totally dark. We looked across a busy road and saw, rising up out of the shadows: Taco Bell. Everybody in the car could GO for some Taco Bell at this point, we quickly realized.

Pulling into the long line at the drive-thru, I started to regale my little brother and my daughter with stories of coming here late at night with friends after high school parties (one of the pleasures/pitfalls of living in your hometown is all the memories!). I told them how my friend, we'll call her Jamie, decided to climb out of my little red Toyota and onto the roof, and I had to coax her back in saying, "I'll get you your Chalupa, Jamie! Just get back in!" After a long day and a harrowing "snack day" plan, this old memory seemed utterly hilarious to me.

That personal connection is what all brands try to do. Taco Bell does it really well. If they had Twitter when I was in high school, I'm sure I would've tweeted about my funny late night experience, hashtag #catholicschoolgirlsrule. (I'm #thankful every day that social media did not exist when I was age 17).

At MUFSO last fall, I heard Taco Bell's social media director talk about how they build an intensely personal experience for their customers through Twitter. Recently, a Taco Bell fan tweeted that he was going to get a tattoo of a Grilled Stuffed Burrito. Taco Bell asked if he was serious. They ended up flying this 20-something guy out to LA to get the very best burrito tattoo ever. It was a great promotion, but there's more:

A couple months after that, the Taco Bell social media guy saw an email from the tattooed fan's mother. "Uh oh..." he thought. Instead of a reprimand, though, the email was a big thank you. This guy had been going through some stuff, and the trip out to LA helped him get out of his funk. The power of drive-thru comfort.

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Kitchen Conversations, Confessions and True Stories

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Tara Fitzpatrick

Tara Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Food Management and has been a full time staff editor since 2008. She covers food, culinary and menu trends. Favorite food? “Lox on a bagel....
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