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RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. – The founder of the Taco Bell restaurant chain, Glen W. Bell, Jr., passed away Sunday evening, January 17, in his home in Rancho Santa Fe, California at the age of 86.
“The entire Taco Bell family of franchisees and employees are deeply saddened by the loss of the founder of Taco Bell. Glen Bell was a visionary and innovator in the restaurant industry, as well as a dedicated family man,” said Greg Creed, president and chief concept officer of Taco Bell. “His innovative business acumen started out of humble beginnings and created one of the nation’s largest restaurant chains in Taco Bell. Mr. Bell introduced an entire nation to the taco and Mexican cuisine.”
A World War II veteran, Bell served in the Marine Corps and his unit participated in Battles at Guadalcanal and Guam as well as post-war service in China before heading home to California.
Bell’s first venture in the restaurant business was in 1948, when he opened Bell’s Drive-In, in San Bernardino, Calif. Bell founded his restaurant after he and his San Bernardino High School classmate Neal Baker, who also started his own restaurant, Baker’s, had closely studied the success of McDonald’s brothers burger restaurants that were also founded in San Bernardino. The car culture was booming in 1948. 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 of hamburgers and hot dogs. He soon differentiated his menu by adding Mexican cuisine. 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, Bell and a fellow business partner built three drive-thru taco stands in Southern California called Taco Tias. Since Bell’s partner was not in favor of expanding the Taco Tias into Los Angeles, 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, Bell sold his share of the business to his partners.
In 1961, Bell and an employee, John Galardi, started Der Wienerschnitzel. 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 Founded
Taco Bell became a reality in 1962 when Glen Bell opened his first restaurant in Downey, California. 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. (NYSE: YUM - News).
About that same time he became enthralled by Valley Center, a farming community in San Diego County. There he eventually built Bell Gardens, a 115-acre model produce farm and landscaped park that he opened to the public. Bell Gardens provided educational programs that stressed the importance of agriculture and how to preserve our natural resources. He was also a fervent supporter of 4-H.