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Santa Barbara Dunkin’ Donuts to Open at Taco Bell Site on Upper State Street

Coffee-and-doughnuts chain battles some Architectural Board of Review resistance over plan to alter mission-style, curved architecture

Dunkin’ Donuts wants to move into this Taco Bell at 3771 State St. near La Cumbre Plaza, but its plan to remove the curved Taco Bell-style architecture is drawing opposition. Click to view larger
Dunkin’ Donuts wants to move into this Taco Bell at 3771 State St. near La Cumbre Plaza, but its plan to remove the curved Taco Bell-style architecture is drawing opposition. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The rapidly expanding Dunkin’ Donuts coffee chain plans to open a store on Upper State Street, but the company’s proposal to transform a Taco Bell building so far isn’t as palatable as its glazed doughnuts.

Dunkin’ Donuts, which has emerged as a coffee competitor to Starbucks, plans to open at 3771 State St., at an existing Taco Bell near Whole Foods and La Cumbre Plaza.

But first, Quincy, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Donuts and its architectural firm, Armet Davi Newlove & Associates of Santa Monica, will have to figure out the recipe for how to design a building in Santa Barbara.

The company wants to get rid of the curved, bell-shaped architecture that adorns the front of the building, squaring it off. It also wants to add a fire pit to the front of the store.

Dunkin’ Donuts spokeswoman Mallory Schluter told Noozhawk that architectural renderings of the proposed building are not yet available. Instead, she emailed over photographs of the chain’s coffee and doughnuts.

Some members of the city’s Architectural Board of Review weren’t enamored with the proposed changes. Thiep Cung said he likes the current building, which was designed by Santa Barbara architect Brian Cearnal in the 1990s. He would like some of that distinctive mission architecture to remain.

“Can you just make a Dunkin’ Donuts with a curve?”​ Cung asked. “You can save a lot of money. I just feel that by spending all the money here you are kind of making it a box. Will the corporation, can it live with a curved Dunkin’ Donuts?”

Franchisee B.J. Kim said Dunkin’ Donuts needs to design the building with its own corporate branding in mind.

“The building is so Taco Bell,” Kim said. “If you have seen any of the the other Dunkin’ Donuts that are coming online in Southern California, our prototypical architecture is really modern.

“We’re trying to juxtapose our really ultra modern architecture and branding with something that will work in Santa Barbara.”

The Santa Barbara store is one of 54 planned to open in California over the next few years as part of a major expansion into the West Coast market. Dunkin’ Donuts is looking to brand its stores as restaurant-style coffee and bakery destination shops, a la Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

The restaurant is facing what corporations and consultants often encounter when trying to break into the Santa Barbara market: A lack of understanding of the the community’s culture, ignorance of its architectural standards, and inability to grasp the nuance for navigating through the planning process.

In trying to defend the squaring off of the front of the building, architect Paul Deppe, a partner with Armet Davi Newlove, said the new structure would be very similar to other nearby buildings.

“We would still like to square the building off, give it a more modern feel,” Deppe said. “I think it would work very much in context with some of the banks across the street.”

ABR chairman Kirk Gradin said he wasn’t thrilled about the proposed fire pit.

“I am having trouble with the fire pit,”​ Gradin said. “I think that is going to be visually predominant. It is going to be quite a statement to have flames right there out in front of the building.”

Kim said the point of the fire pit was to attract people to Dunkin’ Donuts.

“It’s really something to say ‘Look over here. We’re something different,’” he said.

Kim said Dunkin’ Donuts, unlike Taco Bell, will be a place for everyone to gather.

“When was the last time we all went to Taco Bell,” Kim laughed. “People are all moving toward healthier menus. People are all moving toward hanging out. That’s why we love this site. It’s a huge front. It’s engaging the street. It’s activating.”

Gradin also said Dunkin’ Donuts was making a poor choice by squaring off the building.

“I think it is unfortunate to just box it off and get rid of what was otherwise an interesting parapet detail,”​ he said.

Some ABR members were satisfied with the removal of the curved architecture in front. They also supported some of the other proposed changes, including the landscaping plan, a redesign of the outdoor seating area, and decorating the plaster columns with a stone façade.

Dunkin’ Donuts will return to the ABR next week for another attempt at approval. ABR members told company representatives to come back with a plan to reduce the height of the parapet wall and present a color and and lighting plan. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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