Taco Bell founder dies at 86

by Bryan Salvage
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IRVINE, CALIF. — Glen W. Bell, Jr., 86, founder of the Taco Bell restaurant chain, died Jan. 17 in his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. Mr. Bell was born Sept. 3, 1923 in Lynwood, Calif. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Martha (“Marty”); three sisters, Delores, Dorothy and Maureen; daughter, Kathleen; two sons, Gary and Rex; and four grandchildren, Brandon, Jordan, Valerie and Christopher. Private funeral services are being planned for family members.

Mr. Bell’s first venture in the restaurant business was in 1948, when he opened Bell’s Drive-In, in San Bernardino, Calif. The car culture was booming in 1948 and Mr. Bell was on the cusp of developing restaurants that offered revolutionary changes to its customers. These restaurants had drive-ins, streamlined menus and quick service, which met a growing need of customers to eat on the go.

Bell’s Drive-In first served a menu with hamburgers and hot dogs. However, Mr. Bell soon decided to differentiate his menu by adding Mexican fare. He quickly realized the need to develop a convenient way to serve items such as tacos in a take-out environment. He also began experimenting with a drive-thru concept. Once he perfected his taco shell recipe, taco sauces and the convenient drive-thru concept, he was ready to introduce the tastes and textures of Mexican food to mainstream America.

Between 1954 and 1955, Mr. Bell and a fellow business partner built three drive-thru taco stands in Southern California called Taco Tias. Since Mr. Bell’s partner was not in favor of expanding the Taco Tias into Los Angeles, Mr. Bell sold his interest in the taco stands. In 1958, Bell and a new group of business partners opened El Tacos in the Long Beach area. While El Tacos expanded throughout California and was extremely profitable, Mr. Bell sold his share of the business to his partners because he was ready to start his own venture.

In 1961, Mr. Bell and his employee John Galardi started Der Wienerschnitzel. Later, Mr. Galardi went on to build Der Wienerschnitzel into a chain of his own. Another employee, Ed Hackbarth, also left to open his own drive-in, a chain that would become Del Taco.

Taco Bell became a reality in 1962 when Glen Bell opened his first restaurant in Downey, Calif. He followed with eight small Taco Bell units in the Long Beach, Paramount and Los Angeles areas. From there, he expanded his restaurant chain and sold the first Taco Bell franchise in 1964. In 1978, Bell sold his 868 Taco Bell restaurants to PepsiCo. Taco Bell is now owned by Yum! Brands Inc.

Taco Bell serves more than 36.8 million consumers each week in more than 5,600 restaurants in the U.S. More than 2 billion tacos and 1 billion burritos are served throughout the U.S. each year.
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