A look into Houston's retail past

Del Taco

Company History
Del Taco was founded in 1964 in Yermo, California. Starting a few years after the first Taco Bell, Del Taco wasn’t the first attempt at fast Mexican food, but they were quite a successful one. Part of their The business experienced tremendous growth in the California market, along a small number of locations in Eugene, OR and Yuma, AZ. The original owners of Del Taco sold to private investors in 1976 this was followed a year later by the sale of franchising and development rights to W.R. Grace & Company, anywhere stores had not yet been built. A chemical company at heart Grace decided to manage Del Taco through a subsidiary. This essentially created two Del Taco corporations. The original, (Del Taco Inc.) with claims to territory in California, Arizona, and Oregon. With the other (Del Taco Restaurants of Dallas, TX) holding claims everywhere else.

While the Del Taco at 4902 Kirby is not the only location still selling Tex-Mex, it’s probably the most famous.

W.R. Grace began to build their first Del Taco locations in 1978, starting in many states at once, including Texas. The stores were a hit, and the resources available to newly formed subsidiary helped quick growth. Stores numbers were within the hundreds by the first few years. The connection to Grace also served as a easy pull for high level managerial talent. These roots would however only serve to eventually divide the two Del Taco’s. By the mid 80s Grace’s Del Tacos began to face issues.

While building designs, menus, and even logos were all originally the same, the two companies would develop different identities. Promotions would be separate, and the Earth toned buildings were ditched for a more sterile white look. As the chains grew further separate W.R. Grace looked for a way to help the ailing stores become more profitable. The idea was to move Grace’s reliance away from the original Del Taco and reduce costs paid in licensing. This task was made easier by the large number of other restaurants Grace had acquired since franchising their first Del Taco. The name of the new company would be Taco Villa, originally  from an existing chain that was integrated into Del Taco of Dallas. Some Del Taco locations would make the conversion, however this plan would never be completed. In 1986 Grace announced they would spin off their restaurants division, except for Del Taco/Taco Villa. Later that year Original Del Taco would purchase Taco Villa from W.R. Grace including a majority of the locations. The remaining locations in Texas, Georgia, and Florida were rejected by In 1992, the W.R. Grace Company decided to sell their remaining Del Taco restaurants to Taco Bell for conversion. This would give full control of the chain back to the original company.

Local History
Being outside of the original franchise area, Texas was under the aforementioned second Del Taco. The company first arrived in Houston in the summer of 1978 with the establishment of a regional office. Being a chemical company at heart, the original HQ was in a booming new office area which was part of Greenspoint (16720 Hedgecroft Drive). The first restaurant to open (1915 Mangum) would open only a few months later in early November. This was quickly followed by the Richmond at Main location. All restaurants designs were based off a simplified version of the California’s Del Taco buildings.

The original 1915 Mangum location was part of the 80’s wave of closures. It would later become a Hartz’s Chicken Buffet and is now a Frank’s Grill.

It was apparent from the start that Del Taco, knew winning Houston would mean taking on Taco Bell. Which was already an established chain in Texas at the time, having made their debut in Houston over 10 years prior. Many of the first Del Taco locations were placed near to popular Taco Bell locations. These “knockoff locations” would make up the bulk of the first Del Tacos to open in Houston. The second wave of restaurants hit smaller cities around Houston that lacked a Taco Bell or in some cases even a strong fast food presence. The third wave of growth focused on new developments around the Houston area, and trying to beat Taco Bell to them. 

When choosing new locations, W.R. Grace had good success. Most of their former Del Tacos, are still operating as restaurants some 40 years later. They also took a strong presence in advertising their entry into the market. Such as a “charming” advertising insert provided with newspapers. This strong advertising presence matched with a consistent 2-3 stores opening per month quickly launched Del Taco’s Houston division to over 40 stores. Despite all these efforts, W.R. Grace’s lack of knowledge in operating food service outlets began to show. Especially when pitted against PepsiCo’s numerous resources.

The South Houston location, was converted to a Jack in the Box. The exterior remained mostly unchanged until a 2012 remodel. As seen in this 2011 Google Street View Capture, despite a new coat of paint the original terracotta roof tiles were even intact.

One of the first cracks to show was an issue with keeping staff. This seemed to be a problem at most locations, and generally throughout the chain. They had a constant posting for jobs long after expansion had ended. Mostly seeking replacement staff with little details. Specifically, management seemed to be the biggest hole to fill. The frequency of the for-hire posts would increase closer to the chain’s exit from the Houston market.

By the 1980s hundreds of Del Taco locations had been built by W.R. Grace. The chains had shifted greatly apart due to Grace’s methods of management. Promotions, menus, and logos were all different. The stores would also be remodeled to a simpler more clinical look. During this time W.R. Grace had begun to acquire multiple restaurant chains, one of these was an already established medium size Tex-Mex chain named Taco Villa. It seems that the intention of the company was to replace the Del Taco name with Taco Villa while keeping the menu and buildings the same. A rough estimate is about 100 of the nearly 300 Grace stores were converted to Taco Villa. One known Houston example was 3030 Cullen which was a Taco Villa when it closed in 1987.

The conversion to Taco Villa was halted in 1986 when the W.R. Grace spun off their restaurant group to form a new company. Del Taco agreed to purchase about half of the restaurants from Grace with a long term plan for integration. Grace would continue to operate the remaining Del Taco and Taco Villa locations as leases ran out. Houston lost all of our stores by 1990, with other metropolitan areas like Atlanta keeping their stores until 1992.

Location List

Address
Notes
1915 Mangum Rd Houston, TX 77092November 1978-198? Became Hartz's Chicken by 1993. Now a Frank's Grill
401 Richmond Ave Houston, TX 77002November 1978-1989 Now Shipley's
9204 Bellaire Blvd Houston, TX 77036December 1978-1989 Demolished 2001
914 Federal Rd Houston, TX 77015February 1979-1987 Now EZPawn
917 Edgebrook Dr Houston, TX 77034March 1979-1989 Later China Feast, Now Marco's Seafood
3030 Cullen Blvd Houston, TX 77004July 1979-1987 Converted to Taco Villa; Demolished
4902 Kirby Dr Houston, TX 77098July 1979-1984 Now Goode Co. Taqueria
5929 S Braeswood Blvd Houston, TX 77096July 1979-? Now a Jewish Temple Originally 5919
5522 Bellaire Blvd Houston, TX 77081September 1979-1988 Converted to El Pollo Loco in 1985 and Arby's in 1989. Demolished for McDonald's parking 1991.
4502 W Fuqua St Houston, TX 77045September 1979-1988 Converted to Popeye's. Building Remodeled 2013.*
14510 Memorial Dr Houston, TX 77079September 1979-198? Converted to a Schlotzsky's in 2010. Store #2023^
218 W Greens Rd Houston, TX 7706719??-19?? Demolished*
17388 Hempstead Hwy Houston, TX 770411980-19?? Demolished for a McDonald's*
9990 Bissonnet St, Houston, TX 77036April 1980-1989 Now a Brenda's Taqueria* Originally 10100
9120 S Main St Houston, TX 77025April 1980-198? Demolished Now a Popeye's Store #2050*
11403 Wilcrest Dr Houston, TX 77099March 1980-198? Still Standing, Now Vacant Store 2019*
12550 Bellaire Blvd Houston, TX 77072March 1980-1989 Demolished Rebuilt as a Popeye's with Gas Station in 2003.*
7629 W Bellfort Blvd Houston, TX 770711979-1989 Converted to a Whataburger. Still standing somewhat updated. Store #2028.
3198 Fondren Rd, Houston, TX 770631980-1984 Became an El Pollo Loco 1985 Then Frenchy's 1986 Finally Hartz's Chicken 1989.
18552 Kuykendahl Rd Spring, TX 773791985-19?? Converted to Popeye's building heavily remodeled*
2420 Gessner Rd Houston, TX 77080198?-19?? Demolished?*
9131 Long Point Rd, Houston, TX 770551979-198? Still Standing, Now a Used Car Lot. Store #2027*
5625 Richmond Ave Houston, TX 770571979-198? Converted to Popeye's. Building still standing, remodeled 2014. Store #2042*
10599 Telephone Rd, Houston, TX 77075
2601 S Loop 35, Alvin, TX 77511September 1979-198? Converted to Popeye's?*
1800 N Velasco St Angleton, TX 775151980-198? Converted to a Little Caesars
3921 7th St Bay City, TX 77414April 1979-19?? Now a Dry Cleaners
100 S Alexander Dr Baytown, TX 775201980-19?? Sold to El Pollo Loco. Original building torn down 2009 rebuilt by Dairy Queen.
850 Dixie Dr Clute, TX 775311980-19?? Demolished now a Sonic.
802 N Loop 336 W Conroe, TX 77301September 1979-1988 Now a Whataburger
2354 N Mechanic St El Campo, TX 774371980-198? Now a Subway
528 University Blvd Galveston, TX 775501980-198? Converted? to a Whataburger
3101 Farm to Market 1960 Rd E Humble, TX 773381980-198? Demolished?*
2705 11th St Huntsville, TX 773401980-198? Converted to a Sonic in 2001, building still used as dining room
2133 Southmore Ave Pasadena, TX 775021980-198? Now an independent restaurant. Expanded in 1997
3416 Broadway St, Pearland, TX 775811980-198? Converted to a Popeye's. Remodeled in mid 2010s.
4417 Avenue H, Rosenberg, TX 774711980-198? Converted to Whataburger, Closed 2009?
1503 Spencer Hwy South Houston, TX 77587September 1979-19?? Now a Jack in the Box
8260 Louetta Rd Spring, TX 77379February 1979-198? Originally 7400, Became a Whataburger (Thanks Rudy!) Now Taste of China.
3101 Palmer Hwy Texas City, TX 775901980-198? Demolished?
938 NASA Road 1 Webster, TX 77598September 1979-19?? Demolished?

Reader Comments

    1. I ate there a few times too, and have some photos I’ll eventually add. I agree it was very good, much better than Taco Bell.

      1. 8904 westheimer build as church’s chicken til 80s

        kentucky fried chicken housed the church’s

        kfc closed for window blinds store

        after del taco closed

        golden chick housed & now closed

      2. The Texas City location was directly catty-corner from the Taco Bell. I remember us going and getting part if what we wanted at Del Taco then driving across the street to Taco Bell to get the rest if what everyone wanted.itemember being made that it closed up. I felt it should have been Taco Bell that went out if business cause I always had liked Dell Taco better.

        1. Sadly, Texas City opened when there was a strike going on with one or more plants and opened to pretty well an empty dining room.

      1. thanks, taqueria los jaliscienses, now on telephone, does this sign looks like a popeye’s?

        2631 o 2635 north in nacogdoches texas was del taco, now what a burger, next to the recently former pizza hut.

        2804 north @ pine was jack in the box #684

        razed to chick fil a

        any other former

        29## block

  1. Having begun my fast-food management career with Hardee’s then McDonald’s, I jumped at the opportunity to join DelTaco and began as manager-in-training at the Mangum location. I saw DelTaco poised to become the next national giant in the foodservice industry. We had absolutely EVERYTHING necessary to become no less than in the top two in any positive list. Everything, that is, except store management and multi-unit supervision with a foodservice background along with corporate leadership by persons who had ever eaten at a fast-food restaurant. Trickle-down within the corporate to management level was recognized by so many of us in the field to be a strong hint for betting on failure yet most willing to remain in the game knowing that changing your hand can lead to success

    Opening the forty-couple stores in and around Houston in relatively short order was no doubt a major undertaking yet the early group of managers would have displayed a mix of people absolutely in love with DelTaco. Despite problems seen up close, however, the challenge of getting local-corp to look at any issue without creating an often devastating knee-jerk reaction served as just another nail in the proverbial coffin. Certainly, leadership survives with adherence to the chain-of-command however the so numerous knee-jerk reactions quickly led to silence in the field lest a “quick solution” usually meant someone’s career card receiving too many holes punched too soon or poorly considered solutions creating a huge problem out of something simple. The local-corp office game of politics undoubtedly came from California right along with an advertising program flouting “That California Taste!” Could have opened 41 “New York Style” delis in Houston with greater success. The chain of command filtered right down to an on-hand staff, often working on their first-ever job. Again the chain of command is necessary as the backbone of any team but an out-of-the-military implementation must differ. Open ears and eyes of leaders are necessary in order to prevent repeatedly making the same mistakes while expecting differing results. When open eyes and ears are utilized simply as ammunition to sever ties, at any pre-decided time, with anyone not standing well within the local political game quickly leads to the famous “loose lips sink ships” mentality which is also as useful as failing to declare “FIRE” in a burning theater lest one disturb the feature. The results of utilizing the chain simply as COMMAND too often leads to individuals failing to feel their participation has any worth, eventually creating their own chain, thereby a group of players all going their own direction, making their own rules, creating their own solutions to problems all actually drilling their own holes in the boat. The whole idea of any chain of command allows one to go up as well as down.

    I know my remarks sound like sour grapes however they are only for some insight as to how what happened happened to an elsewhere very popular and successful restaurant chain. High turnover of management has been written about as a major problem leading to the failure of the Houston operation yet so many talented people were brought aboard whose flames burned out too soon. People joined the management team with open eyes to the opportunities which were abundant. There existed an outstanding operation with plenty of locations providing for personal careers to grow. An opportunity for those whose desire was to manage their own unit without desire for moving up to multiple unit supervision was mistakenly taken as someone failing a desire for success. A desire to operate one’s own unit, building that restaurant’s success while wanting to live in the neighborhood instead of traveling across town or never knowing from day to day where they would work, who they would be supervised by or who they would be supervising was accepted as failing to be a team player. The idea of “team” was too often a mysterious concept. There was plenty of opportunity for growth as well as the talent to participate. Too often, however, people were simply like pieces on a Chessboard often to be used for sacrifice, thus early burn out or being burned!

    The idea of the company eventually being sold to Taco Bell I find sad after having watched the Taco Bell “big wigs” come in from next door, across, or down the street to see what we were doing to cause their restaurant to be empty at lunchtime. My friends at McDonald’s expressed their frustration with being unable, at the time, to compete for the customers going to DelTaco because some of the group could have the traditional hamburger, others a burger with chiles, or Mexican fare with fries along with a sundae. The most often expressed comment on our customer comment cards was the opportunity to place one’s order and receive a numbered marker to place on their table and have a seat rather than stand in line, a friendly host/hostess quickly delivering their meal whether to dine in or take out. No hollering out a number to interrupt a diner’s visitation with friends while waiting. It made any wait seem shorter, it placed a person among the diners in case something was wrong or if someone desired something else later to complement their meal or have an order to take with back to the office or family. In addition to this being such a + for customers, it also allowed for potential visitors who, pressed for time and did not see people standing at the counter to choose DelTaco instead of a competitor. Sadly the host/hostess position became one of the sacrificial lambs of the aforementioned knee-jerk reactions resulting instead of positive comment cards sometimes negative ones. That negative resulted in another knee-jerk reaction which was simply to throw them in the trash instead of being sent on to the California office. In addition to a “comment card box” located by the exits for deposit, the cards were self-address postage-paid, so said decision to destroy the negative ones did not totally work in insulating Corporate from H-Town.

    I still hear people express a desire to have DelTaco here as well as to express disappointment in “no longer” having them. Just a note in reference to the Kirby location being famous, I’m sure because it “continues to sell TexMex” as an operation of The Goode Company, operating a BBQ restaurant of fame across the street. This location was used in the film Middle Age Crazy starring Ann-Margaret and Bruce Dern, the premise of Dern turning middle age and, well, crazy. We shut down for the day and our signage was covered over as Dern was in the restaurant business and we had locations in differing stages of construction for use. This was the only completed and open unit to be used. The South Houston location, currently a Jack In The Box was also an El Pollo Loco in between although not mentioned as such in the list.

    Well, I’ve written a short book, have plenty of photos in storage to share if able to be found and not being blocked from any further posting.

Leave a Reply

E-Mail only required to receive reply notification, it will not be published.