Paul Wilson: I pray thee tell, where's our Taco Bell?

Until just the other day, there was a Taco Bell at Main and Dundurn. Suddenly it vanished. It leaves a corner that's laden with history.
This is what the Taco Bell at Main and Dundurn used to look like, bell tower and all.. (Google Maps image)

The hair stylist across the street, the tailor right next door, they both say what happened one day last week at the corner of Main and Dundurn caught them completely by surprise.

One moment they had a Taco Bell restaurant for a neighbour. And the next time they looked out their window, it had vanished.

The building was still there. But every sign that it had ever been a place serving hi-cal fast food of the Mexican variety was gone.

... and this is what it looks like now. The bell tower fell a couple of years ago, and the Taco Bell signs suddenly disappeared one day last week. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

In the beginning, 101 years ago, they built a church on that corner and called it the Garth Street Methodist Mission. (The street name later changed to Dundurn.)

It was not a fancy church, but solid, built of brick. Dundurn United was happy to move in there next. In 1930, new Canadians from Holland took it over and made it a Christian Reformed Church. They stayed nearly 20 years.

Many found God here

Next, the building became Westside Baptist. Then, in order, Old Kirk Antiques, Church of God Prophecy, North American Indian Pentecostal, Kate and Christies Auction Service, Theatre Terra Nova.

The neighbourhood had changed around the little church. A strip mall rose across the street, with places like McDonald’s, Pizza Pizza, Subway, Tim Hortons. And at next corner over, KFC and Harvey’s.

A developer from Toronto decided there was room for one more, and in 1993 opened a Taco Bell on the corner where 30,000 passed each day.

The church had been on the city’s list of historically-important buildings, and there was hope the new restaurant would incorporate the old building into its design.

But the chains rarely do it that way. And the church was knocked down, the contents of its 1911 cornerstone cavity vanishing in the process.

A stucco building rose on the site. It was a cut above the usual Taco Bell, and even included a bell tower with faux bronze bell.

The years passed. Many diets went off track there. You could get a lot for a little at Taco Bell. And how about those refills?

Bell tower down

But the building was not wearing well. A couple of years ago, the bell tower was knocked down, along with the decorative arbour that lined the drive.

And then, last Wednesday, Taco Bell pulled out. Signs gone, doors locked.

A few souvenirs remain in the dumpster at the quickly-closed Taco Bell. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

It turns out the plug was pulled by a man in Waterloo named Barney Strassburger, of Twincorp Inc. He’s been in the food business some 45 years, and his father was at it before him.

"There are too many people in the restaurant business," he says, so he’s getting out. He’s had Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell outlets from Windsor to Niagara to Parry Sound, and by the end of this year they will all be sold off.

He bought the Taco Bell at Main and Dundurn in 1998. And he shut it now because it just wasn’t performing anymore.

The lease is up on the land and building. It’s owned right now by a numbered Ontario company in Toronto. But Strassburger says the property has changed hands many times and he’s not sure what will happen on the site now. The parking lot is small, he says, and the congestion is high.

He is also shutting down Taco Bell outlets in St. Catharines, Welland, Kitchener and Brantford. He has just sold off 13 Taco Bells to a Richmond Hill company called Amlee Foods. It says it will keep operating the other two Taco Bells in Hamilton, on Upper James and Queenston.

That building on Queenston has weathered well. It was the site of the first A&W in Hamilton, which opened 52 years ago. 

Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson.