In the world of fast food art, there are Spanish-speaking Chihuahuas, bespectacled southern gentlemen, and hamburger-dealing clowns. Now, there’s a new and unlikely emblem of American gastronomy: a skeleton.
Yum! Brands, the parent company of Taco Bell, has unveiled a new taco restaurant, U.S. Taco Co., visually inspired by Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), according to the Orange County Register. The holiday is celebrated in Mexico and many other Spanish-speaking countries. Aside from not being able to cash a check, it’s an opportunity for people to pray for the souls of their deceased loved ones. Offerings such as flowers and skeletal dolls called calacas are made on altars for the dead.
The sugar skull — made from sugar cane and decorated with colored icing — is its most famous emblem, and U.S. Taco Co. has adopted a hot-pink, die-cut version as its logo. It’s a strange appropriation of a deeply Latin American symbol for a restaurant that will — stay with me — feature Mexican food inspired by traditional U.S. cuisine — think philly cheesesteak, fried chicken, and lobster roll tacos … because we all know Americanized Mexican food could stand to get a little bit more Americanized.
What’s weirder, though, is how much the new restaurant’s branding artwork resembles a trendy Mexican restaurant called Lacalaca (the Skeleton), which first opened in San Salvador in January 2012 and is frequented by the sort of cool, artsy clientele that U.S. Taco Co. is presumably hoping to attract.
Lacalaca also uses a pink, die-cut sugar skull as its logo. Similar skeletal imagery adorns the rest of the restaurant’s identity — from napkins to take-out sacks — as well as its interior. There, the morbid design might be more easily relatable to its clientele, many who likely grew up with Day of the Dead festivities and may find more personal meaning in them than the predominantly white citizens of Huntington Beach, the city where the first U.S. Taco Co. will open this summer.
Are the similarities between the designs a coincidence? The advertising agency DraftFCB is responsible for Taco Bell’s marketing, but it’s not clear if they were also involved in the new restaurant’s identity. We asked YUM! Brands for comment on their inspiration for the restaurant’s branding, but all they sent were pictures of tacos drenched in ketchup and buttermilk gravy.
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