A McDonald’s, a Taco Bell and 2 Arby’s get overhauls. Coincidence?

At least five fast-food restaurants in the Tri-Cities are being remodeled — from plumbing upgrades to major overhauls that entail tearing out playgrounds and walls, remodeling bathrooms and kitchens and putting up the latest in electronic gadgetry.

The remodels closed a McDonald’s in Kennewick’s Southridge area, a Taco Bell in north Richland and will affect three Arby’s sandwich shops, including two in Kennewick and a third in Richland.

It’s not unusual for fast-food restaurants to undergo makeovers. But five at once begs a question: Are owners taking on big projects when the pandemic has closed their dining rooms? Or is it a coincidence?

It is a coincidence, said Joel Bouchey, regional director and public policy coordinator for the Inland Northwest chapter of Associated General Contractors.

Buildings age. Brand standards change and technology moves on. Updates are inevitable and take plenty of time to plan.

National brands such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Arby’s and their franchisees invest heavily in keeping up with the times and technology.

Adams Tri-Cities Enterprises, which operates 10 local McDonald’s as a franchisee of the Illinois burger giant, is no different.

It’s on a years-long campaign to modernize, replace and even move to more prominent locations.

The latest is a 1998-built McDonald’s at 2700 S. Quillan St., near the Kennewick Walmart store.

The 3,300-square-foot building is getting a $285,000 makeover, according to a permit issued by the city.

The update will bring the parking lot and bathrooms into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, replace the drive-thru and add new exterior finishes and signage, a new order counter, menu board and 400 square feet of space.

The contractor, EM Precision, has stripped the building of its siding and play structure.

McDonald’s applied for building permits in April, when the pandemic was in its infancy.

That suggests the project was planned well before coronavirus began its deadly march across the planet, Bouchey said.

“A lot of those are planned two years out. But if it’s still happening next year, then it could be a factor,” he said.

It does seem like there are a lot of remodels happening, but Amanda Wallner, marketing specialist for the city of Richland, said that is not unusual.

The similarly-aged buildings are due for updates and technology is changing the way customers place orders.

“There are a lot of competitive changes to stay relevant in that industry,” she said. Too, she noted, customers have turned to fast-casual options over sit-down, table service restaurants in the pandemic.

The Richland Taco Bell is even older than the McDonald’s. It opened in 1981 at Washington Plaza, a Safeway-anchored strip mall at McMurray Street and George Washington Way.

The restaurant is closed for an $800,000 makeover to bring it up to the modern brand standards, said John Arthur, president of Yakima Restaurants Inc., the Ohio-based company that owns and operates 32 Taco Bell franchises in Ohio and Washington.

Baxter Construction is the contractor for the down-to-the-studs remodel. The updates include electronic menu boards, more space in the kitchen and a new drive-thru, said Arthur, who manages the family’s 10 Washington Taco Bells. His identical twin brother manages the ones in Ohio.

Richland authorized the work in August.

Arthur said the exterior had not been significantly updated in the 30 years since it was built.

Yum! Brands, which owns the Taco Bell brand, laid out new standards for its franchisees.

Arthur said that was the impetus for the remodel but Yakima Restaurants is going well beyond the minimum.

A bump out will add more space in the kitchen as well as storage space to accommodate employees.

The restaurant is in the top 3 for sales, he said. But is also the most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Arthur said it’s due to the loss of drive-by traffic since many Hanford site workers began working from home.

He expects Taco Bell to reopen in early to mid-November as a drive-thru. Restaurants can open at 25% capacity under Washington’s Safe Start program,  but Arthur won’t reopen the dining room until he feels it is safe for employees.

Arthur confirmed that capital projects take lots of planning. He intends to remodel four Yakima-area Taco Bell locations in the next one to two years.

Three of four local Arby’s sandwich shops will be remodeled starting in November, said Jessica Jourdan, regional manager for RB American, the franchise operator. Arby’s drive-thrus will stay open but the dining rooms, already closed by the pandemic, will remain closed.

Jourdan said the company is waiting for restaurants to be allowed to operate at 50% capacity under Washington’s Safe Start program before it opens to in-person dining. As of mid-October, Benton and Franklin counties were in a modified Phase 1, which allowed 25% capacity.

The city of Kennewick issued permits for the Arby’s at 3506 W. Clearwater Ave., and the one at 1310 N. Columbia Center Blvd. The company hasn’t yet sought approval for its Richland plans. It does not currently plan to update its Pasco restaurant, a newer building constructed in 2005.

The Kennewick projects both are valued at $182,000, including remodeling and plumbing work.

The restaurants will get new facades, fixtures, finishes and plumbing fixtures.

Demolition will be minimal.

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