Taco Bell to open flagship Cantina on Las Vegas Strip; Pizza Hut launches a chatbot ordering system; and Humana stock edges higher, breaking downward spiral

A news summary, focused on 10 big employers; updated 5:34 p.m.

Taco_Bell_Las_Vegas_Flagship_Restaurant
Artist’s rendering shows new two-story Las Vegas restaurant.

TACO BELL this afternoon announced plans to build a two-story 24-hour flagship Cantina in Las Vegas right on the Strip at East Harmon Avenue, across from CityCenter and The Cosmopolitan Hotel; it’s expected to open this fall and will be the third in the growing Cantina division. Like other Cantinas, the Las Vegas restaurant will serve alcohol, including beer and Twisted Freezes slushies. Taco Bell introduced the Cantina concept last year with two urban locations, in a bid to draw younger diners with a more tech-focused ordering system and design. Of the 2,000 Taco Bell restaurants planned to be built by 2022, 200 will be urban locations, a typically underrepresented geography for the brand (press release).

Cantina debuted in Chicago last September, and a San Francisco outpost followed a few weeks later. After Las Vegas, Taco Bell plans to take the concept to Atlanta, and further expansion is in the works for college towns and dense urban areas across the country (Eater). Twisted Freezes come in three flavors: Taco Bell’s proprietary Mountain Dew Baja Blast (blue), Cantina Punch (red), and Margarita (green). Patrons can add their choice of rum, tequila or vodka (Chicago Eater).

Baron Concors
Concors

PIZZA HUT announced a new artificial intelligence chatbot that works within Facebook Messenger, and on Twitter, part of a massive roll-out the company is calling “social media ordering.” Chief Digital Officer Baron Concors demonstrated the chatbot at MobileBeat 2016 during a session on chatbot innovations. The new bot can handle pizza and other food delivery orders from customers who have Pizza Hut accounts, streamlining the process, improving accuracy, and eliminating wait-times. It will be available starting next month (Venture Beat and press release).

HUMANA‘s stock closed moments ago at $154.65 a share, up less than 1% — still, the first up day since news broke last week that the insurer and Aetna of Hartford were struggling to keep their $37 billion merger on track during an unexpected meeting with the Justice Department. Aetna’s stock fell less than 1%, closing at $115.50 (Google Finance). None of the parties in the DOJ negotiations Friday have publicly disclosed the outcome. Humana has 12,500 employees in Louisville.

AMAZON: Some shoppers encountered a glitch during today’s second annual Prime Day super sale that prevented them from adding items to their online shopping cart. But a spokesperson said that the cart problem was fixed before noon ET (Forbes). As promised, the retailer offered steep discounts on popular items, including a Samsung curved 55-inch 4K TV for $650, or nearly half off, and a KitchenAid stand mixer for about $250, or $100 off. But Amazon also slashed prices on odd items, such as beard oil and light bulbs. The retailer even had a page of deals called “Weird and Wonderful,” where it touted LED flashing finger gloves and adult-size animal costume pajamas (CNBC).

Amazon’s stock closed at $748.29 a share, down $5.49, or less than 1%. Earlier in the day, shares set a new intraday record high of $757.34 (Google Finance).

The retailer confirmed that it would build a distribution center in Wyandotte County near Kansas City, Kan., a move that had been the subject of speculation for nearly a month. The new facility, the second large-sized center the retailer has announced within a span of four months, will create more than 1,000 full-time roles. In addition to the just-announced one in Wyandotte and an upcoming center in Edgerton, Amazon has existing Kansas facilities in Lenexa (press release).

Prime Day is a big deal in the Louisville area. Amazon employs 6,000 workers in the Louisville area at mammoth distribution centers in Jeffersonville, and in Bullitt County’s Shepherdsville. The company has other centers in Campbellsville, Hebron and Lexington — making Kentucky one of the biggest overall distribution centers in the U.S. Worldwide, there are 123 centers. Plus, Amazon is a major customer of UPS, which has 22,000 workers at its Louisville International Airport hub, making it the area’s single-biggest private employer. Complete Prime Day news coverage.

Snapchat logo
Snapchat’s logo.

BROWN-FORMAN isn’t marketing on 100-million user mobile app Snap Chat — not yet, anyway — because of concerns it could run afoul of laws on advertising to a too-young audience. “Until the demographics get to a higher percentage [of 21-plus] and the targeting capabilities from Snapchat get better, it’s not something we can open up to Brown-Forman brands,” said Jason Loehr, vice president for global media and insights. Those concerns aren’t stopping other alcohol brands, however, including including MillerCoors, Beam Suntory, Diageo, and Bacardi Limited.

U.S. regulations say ads can only placed on media properties where 71.6% of the audience is above legal drinking age. Snapchat has not publicly disclosed the percentage of users under 21, although it recently revealed more than half of new U.S. users are 25 or older (Ad News). Snapchat says more than 100 million people use Snapchat daily, sending videos, images and text messages that vanish after being viewed. Users watch more than 10 billion videos a day, the company says.

Edsel Ford II arrest mug
Ford’s arrest photo.

FORD: A 911 call captured Edsel Ford II‘s wife telling Grosse Pointe Farms police her husband was abusing her, saying “you are going to be on a wife abuse list . . . they are going to take you away.” The call, placed by Cynthia Ford to the Grosse Pointe Farms Police Department at 10:51 p.m. July 4 from the Fords’ Lakeshore Road home, lasts nearly three minutes and captures the moments leading up to the 67-year-old executive’s arrest, according to The Detroit News. Cynthia Ford later issued a statement, saying the incident didn’t amount to abuse. Although Edsel Ford did spend the night in jail, Grosse Pointe Farms City Prosecutor Robert Ihrie announced he wouldn’t be criminally charged because of insufficient evidence (News). Detroit’s other newspaper has the audio recording (Free Press).

Meanwhile, the automaker said its 2017 F-150 truck will include all-new, 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engines and 10-speed automatic transmission (press release). The automaker employs about 5,100 workers at the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, producing F-250 and F-550 Super Duty pickups, plus Expeditions, and Lincoln Navigators.

KFC: “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” star Kylie Jenner has eaten at KFC for the first time in her life, and she posted a photo on Instagram to prove it. Judging from the packaging, it looks like she was in Budapest (Cosmopolitan).

KFC Zinger sandwich
KFC’s Zinger.

In Australia’s Adelaide, KFC’s spicy Zinger chicken sandwich has inspired South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill to push for legislation that would effectively turn the city into a test lab for companies’ new ideas — “a living laboratory.” Weatherill says “KFC intentionally decided to trial the Zinger Burger here . . . which is a rare honor, I suppose you might say.” News reports didn’t explain the benefit to the city, however (In Daily).

In Malaysia’s Kelantan, KFC has started to dress its female staff in long-sleeved uniforms, complying with a “cover aurat” ruling by the state government set to take effect next year.  KFC, which has 20 outlets in Kelantan introduced the new uniforms back in April following talks with the government (Free Malaysia Today).

Douglas Cobb
Cobb

In other news: In one of the least surprising developments at the University of Louisville, Louisville businessman Douglas Cobb has turned down his appointment to the dramatically redrawn board of trustees, after a controversy over Tweets he’d written that questioned evolution and climate change. Gov. Matt Bevin named Louisville attorney Brian Cromer as Cobb’s replacement this afternoon (Business First).

Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said in an email that the governor didn’t ask Cobb to withdraw, and that he decided on his own not to accept the appointment. The new board is to hold its first meeting at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Grawemeyer Hall, and UofL President James Ramsey has promised to submit his resignation (Courier-Journal).

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