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Taco Bell locations in Oakland are forced to CLOSE dining rooms indefinitely – and switch to drive-thru service and cashless payments only – amid series of robberies and unrelenting crime surge

10 min read

Taco Bell restaurants in Oakland, California have been forced to suspend indoor dining indefinitely after being subjected to a series of robberies amid an unrelenting crime surge in the city, DailyMail.com can reveal.

Four of the five Taco Bell locations across the Bay Area city now have large signs hanging from their windows advising: ‘DINING ROOM CLOSED.’ 

Business has been restricted to drive-thru service only – a sad new reality for many customers and families hoping to sit down for a peaceful meal.

‘This is annoying,’ Melissa Gilgen, 45, told DailyMail.com on a rainy Tuesday after shouting her order into an intercom, while her frustrated daughter and five-year-old granddaughter sat in the back seat.

‘We had wanted to go inside so we could eat together,’ Gilgen added, driving off with a bag of breakfast crunchwraps. 

‘Now we’re forced to get drive-thru because the next Taco Bell is like seven miles away.’

Sources tell DailyMail.com the four restaurants – all operated by franchiser Diversified Restaurant Group (DRG) – made the decision to lock their doors to customers amid a spike in violent crimes in the city. 

The move was described as a ‘safety and business decision’, insiders say. 

There is now only one location still offering indoor dining in Oakland, a combination Taco Bell/KFC on Telegraph Avenue. The venue is operated by a different franchiser and already has limited indoor seating due to its small size.

Four of the five Taco Bell restaurants in Oakland have suspended indoor dining service after being the targets of multiple robberies in recent months. Pictured: A Taco Bell franchise located at 3535 35th Ave

Four of the five Taco Bell restaurants in Oakland have suspended indoor dining service after being the targets of multiple robberies in recent months. Pictured: A Taco Bell franchise located at 3535 35th Ave 

Large signs reading 'DINING ROOM CLOSED' can be seen hanging from the windows of the fast food restaurant after it was forced to close its dining room out of safety. Pictured: A Taco Bell restaurant at 630 Hegenberger Rd

Large signs reading ‘DINING ROOM CLOSED’ can be seen hanging from the windows of the fast food restaurant after it was forced to close its dining room out of safety. Pictured: A Taco Bell restaurant at 630 Hegenberger Rd 

Business has been restricted to drive-thru service only, a move that has left customers with families disappointed

Business has been restricted to drive-thru service only, a move that has left customers with families disappointed 

And while it still allows customers to eat in, the franchise – like several of the other locations in the city – has been forced to switch to cashless payments only as a result of recent thefts and robberies. 

Sources tell DailyMail.com that the owner of one local franchise has even threatened to close outright if the security situation doesn’t improve. 

The owner requested a special meeting with Oakland police officials, who sat down with him in late February to discuss the security crisis, sources say.

Police have stepped up patrols around certain locations and plan a follow-up meeting with the franchisee later this week, a source says.

The department has also culled crime records to document some of the recent crimes Taco Bell has faced.

Reviewed exclusively by DailyMail.com, the records show that three Taco Bells in Oakland had been struck a combined half dozen times this year.

One location, on 35th Avenue in East Oakland, has been hit four times since November – twice while open, records show.

On November 17, two suspects smashed their way into the establishment overnight through a window to the lobby and stole items from the office and kitchen.

At 5:12pm on January 23, two suspects wearing masks swiped the register keys and made off with $125.

Then at 10:36am on February 11, two robbers slipped behind the counter, ordered an employee to open the register, and walked out with $97.

The most recent incident was a 6:14am burglary on February 21, when suspects used a pickup truck and a cable to remove a safe containing nearly $20,000.

At lunchtime on Tuesday, a large piece of plywood still sealed off the window that was left shattered. 

There is now only one location still offering indoor dining in Oakland, a combination Taco Bell/KFC located at 6035 Telegraph Avenue

There is now only one location still offering indoor dining in Oakland, a combination Taco Bell/KFC located at 6035 Telegraph Avenue

The fast food establishment allows customers to eat in but no longer carries cash and only accepts credit or debit card payments

The fast food establishment allows customers to eat in but no longer carries cash and only accepts credit or debit card payments

The Telegraph Ave location has several signs advising customers of its new cashless policy

The Telegraph Ave location has several signs advising customers of its new cashless policy 

The entrance, meanwhile, remained locked and the dining area empty, with chairs turned upside on the tables.

A few cars were wrapped around the back, idling as customers stared up at the large screen menu.

‘There should always be an opportunity to sit down inside, relax and enjoy your meal,’ customer Isaiah Huggins, 32, of Oakland, told DailyMail.com. 

‘It’s very sad that the general public has to suffer. Criminals are making the quality of life worse for everybody here in Oakland.’

Huggins then drove around to a cashier who reached out from behind a protective window to swipe his credit card and hand him his tacos.

‘The lobby is closed,’ the female cashier told DailyMail.com when asked about indoor seating. 

‘There’s been a lot of robberies, so it’s just shut down right now for a lot of Taco Bells in the area. It’s just drive-through. We’re not opening anymore.’

The police records also show that the Taco Bell at 2255 Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, located around the corner from a large homeless encampment, was struck twice in January.

At 4:50am on January 8, four suspects broke through a window there, proceeded to the front counter, and tried but failed to remove the safe. 

Twelve days later, at the same early hour, two suspects with masks broke in and used a floor jack to this time successfully steal the safe, containing $2,745. They escaped in a black hatchback.

At the Taco Bell at 630 Hegenberger Road, two would-be burglars wearing masks tried to rob a driver delivering supplies shortly before midnight January 25, but fled when the victim shouted them down.

At the location on Tuesday afternoon, a man could be seen in the parking lot scarfing down a taco in his car while a homeless man was slumped over on the sidewalk nearby. 

At the East Oakland location on 35th Avenue, the restaurant has been ransacked four times since November ¿ twice while opened, according to records. A window through which thieves broke in has since been boarded up with plywood

At the East Oakland location on 35th Avenue, the restaurant has been ransacked four times since November – twice while opened, according to records. A window through which thieves broke in has since been boarded up with plywood 

The Taco Bell on 2255 Telegraph Av was robbed twice in January, with masked suspects taking off with a safe containing $2,745 during the second incident

The Taco Bell on 2255 Telegraph Av was robbed twice in January, with masked suspects taking off with a safe containing $2,745 during the second incident 

At the Hegenberger Rd location on Tuesday, a man was seen scarfing down a taco in his car. A homeless man was slumped over on the sidewalk nearby

At the Hegenberger Rd location on Tuesday, a man was seen scarfing down a taco in his car. A homeless man was slumped over on the sidewalk nearby

A drive-thru only Taco Bell at 630 Hegenberger Rd, Oakland

A drive-thru only Taco Bell at 630 Hegenberger Rd, Oakland

The location at 6900 Bancroft is also locked. 

Catonya Williams, ordering a Wild Strawberry Freeze at the drive-thru, told DailyMail.com that she was fine just ordering from the outside, fearing her car would get broken into if she sat down for lunch.

‘I wouldn’t go inside anyway because you fall victim to car theft, purse snatching, and bipping,’ the 50-year-old said, referring to a type of break-in that involves shattering a vehicles window.

At a Burger King next door, customers were still allowed to dine inside.

‘It means a lot to me to sit down and be able to eat in peace, have an actual conversation,’ Maria Ledezma, 19, told DailyMail.com as she joined her mother, sister-in-law, nephew, and niece for burgers and chicken nuggets. 

‘It’s sad because a lot of us grew up coming to these places to spend time with our families. Now it’s rough. You have to look for different locations to eat.’

Just down the street, a Denny’s fast food restaurant closed in late January due to the violence. 

In February it was announced that Oakland’s only In-N-Out Burger restaurant is also set to shutter its doors this month after 18 years, with the business declaring that customers and staff are now ‘unsafe.’

A Taco Bell representative told DailyMail.com Monday that despite the crime surge, there is no plan at this time to close any of the locations in Oakland. 

The location at 6900 Bancroft Avenue has also switched to drive-thru service only

The location at 6900 Bancroft Avenue has also switched to drive-thru service only 

Speaking from the Bancroft Avenue location, Catonya Williams, 50, told DailyMail.com that she was fine just ordering from the drive-thru fearing her car would get broken into if she had eaten inside

Speaking from the Bancroft Avenue location, Catonya Williams, 50, told DailyMail.com that she was fine just ordering from the drive-thru fearing her car would get broken into if she had eaten inside

He acknowledged, however, that indoor dining is suspended at several locations and that a local franchise owner is holding meetings with police.  

The company has also hired private guards to supplement security.

‘The franchise owner and operator has informed us that they are consistently evaluating and working to ensure a safe environment by implementing procedures, such as closing dining rooms, and hiring security guards, and they have taken extra measures to meet with local law enforcement,’ Taco Bell Corp told DailyMail.com in a written statement.

Oakland's Democrat mayor, Sheng Thao, who took office in January 2023, has deflected blame for the city's crime surge

Oakland’s Democrat mayor, Sheng Thao, who took office in January 2023, has deflected blame for the city’s crime surge

An Oakland police source called Taco Bell’s recent struggles a reflection of the ‘very sorry state our city is in.’

‘When it comes to robberies, in particular, this is the worst we’ve seen it here in many, many years,’ the source told DailyMail.com. 

‘It’s sad that it’s gotten to the point that clientele of Taco Bell can’t even enjoy dining inside because of the crime.

‘We’re in the midst of a doom loop for businesses in Oakland as crime continues to spiral,’ the source continued. 

‘There are not enough cops, and there’s no real support for law enforcement in Oakland. The elected officials, in general, don’t have an interest in public safety. 

‘They’re more sympathetic to criminals than to the businesses or residents of Oakland.

Data from Oakland’s police force reveal that robberies increased by a massive 38% from 2022 to 2023.

Motor vehicle theft in particular saw a major rise, with the force reporting 44% more in 2023 compared with 2022. 

Oakland's only In-N-Out Burger restaurant is set to close after 18 years later this month, thanks to unrelenting crime in the area

Oakland’s only In-N-Out Burger restaurant is set to close after 18 years later this month, thanks to unrelenting crime in the area

In July 2023, months after Thao took office, the Oakland Police Department was forced to issue a public safety advisory citing an uptick in home invasion robberies'

In July 2023, months after Thao took office, the Oakland Police Department was forced to issue a public safety advisory citing an uptick in home invasion robberies’

This Denny's ¿ the only one in Oakland ¿ closed its doors after 54 years

This Denny’s – the only one in Oakland – closed its doors after 54 years

There were 8,675 car theft cases in the city in 2022, compared with 12,956 last year.

Burglaries also jumped 23% from the previous year.

In-N-Out’s chief operations officer, Denny Warnick, wrote in a statement: ‘Despite taking repeated steps to create safer conditions, our customers and associates are regularly victimized by car break-ins, property damage, theft, and armed robberies.’

The fast food burger joint sits in a square mile with several gas stations that cops say are the targets of around a dozen violent crimes every day.

The parking lot of the In-N-Out Burger is hit daily. 

One shocking video from the lot shows a thief smash into a black SUV in broad daylight. 

The crook leans, feet off the ground, through the vehicle’s rear window and snatches up several items before escaping into a waiting getaway car as more than a dozen onlookers watch.

Oakland’s Democrat mayor, Sheng Thao, who took office in January 2023, has deflected blame for the crime surge.

‘Crime in Oakland has been on a steady rise since 2019,’ Thao told local media, adding: ‘It is dishonest for anyone to say that crime started rising under my watch only.’

Data from the city’s police department suggest that this is only partially true.

Total homicides saw an uptick in 2019, but rates have remained relatively steady over the last three years.

Auto burglaries have been rising since 2020, reaching a new peak in 2023 that has not been seen in the past decade.

Commercial burglaries, for the most part, have also steadily increased over the last five years and have almost tripled since 2019.

But in July 2023, months after Thao took office, the Oakland Police Department was forced to issue a public safety advisory citing an uptick in home invasion robberies.

In-N-Out COO blames rising crime for shuttering Oakland store

Denny Warnick, chief operating officer of In-N-Out, said: 

‘We have made the decision to close our In-N-Out Burger location in Oakland, California, due to ongoing issues with crime. Despite taking repeated steps to create safer conditions, our Customers and Associates are regularly victimized by car break-ins, property damage, theft, and armed robberies. Our last day of business in Oakland will be Sunday, March 24, 2024.

‘We are grateful for the local community, which has supported us for over 18 years, and we recognize that this closure negatively impacts our Associates and their families.

‘Additionally, this location remains a busy and profitable one for the company, but our top priority must be the safety and wellbeing of our Customers and Associates – we cannot ask them to visit or work in an unsafe environment.

‘All affected Associates will have the opportunity to transfer to a nearby In-N-Out location or, alternatively, receive a severance package. In-N-Out Burger has a history of supporting the Oakland community through charitable giving that predates the opening of our location there. Although we will no longer do business there, we will continue to support local charitable organizations in Oakland through our In-N-Out Burger Foundation and Slave 2 Nothing Foundation.’

OPD urged residents to trim hedges and shrubs to ‘eliminate potential hiding spots,’ install home security systems, and use outdoor lighting with motion sensors.

Thao previously said her office had implemented new neighborhood strategies since then and were already seeing success.

Referring to Chinatown, Uptown, and Jack London Square areas, she said: ‘We have experienced 42 percent decrease in robberies, 32 percent decrease in auto burglaries…and a 38 percent decrease in theft and 13 percent decrease in commercial burglaries.’

Her office also plans to reinvigorate the city’s ceasefire program, which connects those at the highest risk of gun violence involvement with life coaches.

In 2013, homicides started tracking downward and hit a low of 67 in 2018. Since then, rates have been increasing, reaching 120 in 2023.

Similarly, shootings with injury began decreasing in 2013 and reached a low of 274 in 2018, only to surge to 509 in 2023.

An audit of the ceasefire program by the California Partnership for Safe Communities suggests that these spikes are due to the city gradually walking away from the strategy.

Beginning in 2016 and 2017 and accelerating in 2019 and 2020, ‘each essential element of the strategy was significantly watered down, resources stripped away, or refocused,’ the report read.

This began under Thao’s predecessor, Libby Schaff, who assumed office in 2015 and admitted last year that efforts to defund the city’s police department went ‘too far.’

It’s not only funding that plagues the city’s ability to stop crime, as many cops in the city believe that policy restrictions have taken away their ability to effectively curtail crime.

DailyMail.com previously spoke to Oakland police officers who said the city’s ‘restrictive’ rules forced them to let criminals get away with crime.

‘We can’t do a car chase on nonviolent crime,’ one Oakland cop said from the seat of his police cruiser.

‘I can go behind the cars and try and turn on my lights, but why would they stop?’

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