“GIMME THEM FUCKING TACOS,” someone blurts loudly in the line outside Finland’s first Taco Bell in downtown Helsinki. It’s noon, and the employees inside the restaurant are getting ready to be stomped by a hungry herd of Finnish taco lovers. It’s barely 40 degrees outside, but with the wind from the sea, it feels sub-freezing. There is a slight drizzle in the air, barely detectable, but enough to make me want to throw myself under a bus.
The doors open. One of the employees shouts out the slogan “live más” and starts to clap entirely by himself. Finnish enthusiasm is very subtle and nuanced. Nobody wants to participate willingly in anything that would potentially elevate team spirit. It’s clear that people are here just for one thing: Food, and maybe also one of the free Taco Bell beanies being handed out to the first 100 customers.
A girl from Kotka, about an hour and a half’s drive from here, says she just happened to be in town and decided to join the queue. “I don’t particularly like tacos or spicy food, but it will make an epic Instagram pic,” she says. Can’t argue with that logic.
A group of youngsters is the first to go in. Finland’s first official Taco Bell order being “a quesadilla, of course!” says the leader of the pack, looking at me like I’ve lost all my Taco Bell street cred just for having posed the question. He is correct.
When Restel, Finland’s largest hotel and restaurant operator, announced they would bring Taco Bell to Finland it was met with a question: “Do we really need this?” The answer, apparently, was a resounding yes.
One of the employees shouts out the slogan “live más” and starts to clap entirely by himself. Finnish enthusiasm is very subtle and nuanced.
“We had approximately 3,000 visitors yesterday for the pre-party,” says Sarita Lehtinen, the chain director of Taco Bell Finland. “Many Finns know the brand Taco Bell but have never tried the food. So, we have much more work to do in that sense compared to when we launched Burger King a few years back.”
The restaurant will stay open until 5 AM, an ambitious 17-hour first day. Restel plans to open a new Taco Bell restaurant next week in Espoo (a neighboring city) and another one the week after that.
It wouldn’t be a Finnish Taco Bell without a local touch, but no, there are no reindeer burritos—yet. That said, there is something called Pulled Oats, a Finnish innovation to empower vegetarians dating back to the pulled pork trend of a few years ago. Pulled Oats, a blend of oats with pea and fava bean proteins, has been an enormous success, I’m told. “Having a vegetable protein source is something completely new in the world of Taco Bell, and it’s something we hope will spread globally through Taco Bell,” Lehtinen tells me.
I leave the newly-opened Taco Bell slightly depressed because I’m carrying what is essentially a vegetarian taco made for bunny rabbits. But while my inner stoner is having a tantrum, I can’t help but be intrigued by the concept. When I finally sink my teeth into the crispy taco shell, I find that the Pulled Oats in habanero sauce with the usual toppings is highly deceptive and surprisingly good. It confused the hell out of this carnivore. In the future, if you find yourself eating a Crunchwrap Supreme stuffed with oats, you know who to blame.