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Taco Bell Founder Dies at 86

Glen W. Bell Jr. opened the first Taco Bell in Downey, California, in 1962.

Glen W. Bell Jr., whose inspiration to put tacos on the drive-in menu'® created the 5,600-unit Taco Bell chain, died Sunday, the company '®announced on its website.

The entrepreneur was 86, and had suffered from Parkinson's disease since 1985.  No cause of '®death was released.

Bell—who spent his childhood peddling produce—decided he wanted'® his own food stand after spending a summer in high school in Washington'® working with a great aunt, learning how to bake blackberry pies and then'® selling them as Mrs. Dye's Homemade Pies. (He took home half of the'® $3,000 profit.)

After studying the successful McDonald's restaurants, in 1948 Bell'® opened Bell's Drive-In in San Bernardino, California. He began by serving the'® usual hamburgers and hot dogs, then in 1951 added a twist: Mexican'® food, namely 19-cent tacos. He also worked on other fastfood'® ventures, among them the first Der Weinerschnitzel hot dog stand, with '®his employee John Galardi. Galardi later turned the concept into his'® own 400-unit chain. Ed Hackbarth, another employee, left to open a competing drive-in that became the Del Taco chain.

With $4,000 raised from family and friends—no bank would give him a'®loan—Bell's first Taco Bell started serving in Downey, Calif., in'®1962. He quickly opened another eight restaurants, fulfilling a '®craving for Mexican food (or at least a fastfood version of it) people didn't know they had. When the first'® Taco Bell in Florida opened November 29, 1967, for example, residents were so clueless'® about the cuisine that Bell had to run advertisements defining menu'® tems and showing how to pronounce them. ("Yo quiero Taco Bell" and'® that now-famous Chihuahua didn't arrive until 1997.) In 2008, the'® singer Fergie gave the chain perhaps the ultimate shout-out, writing'® the lyrics "I'm no queen...I still go to Taco Bell, drive through" in'®her hit song "Glamorous."

"I always smile when I hear people say that they never had a taco'® until Taco Bell came to town," Bell told Nation's Restaurant News in 2008, when the trade publication'® honored him with its Pioneer Award. "We changed the eating habits of '®the entire country."

Bell sold his first Taco Bell franchise in 1964 and sold the parent company to PepsiCo'® for $130 million in 1978. At the time of the acquisition, Taco Bell had 868 stores. The brand is now owned by'® Pepsi spinoff Yum Foods, the world's largest restaurant holding company.

"With Glen Bell's passing, we've lost one of our country's great'® entrepreneurs and innovators, but his legacy lives on in our people'® and our brand," Greg Creed, Taco Bell's president and chief concept '®officer, said in a statement on the company's web site.

Bell also leaves behind a personal business philosophy, which he enumerated in his 1999 biography Taco Titan as part of a list of 60 Recipes for Success that touched on the personal as well as the practical considerations of running a business. Among them:  No. 10. When you overextend yourself financially, it's twice as hard to get ahead, No. 21 Don't sell'® everything customers ask for, and No. 52: Your quality of life depends'® on your attitude.

Last updated: Jan 19, 2010


Inc. contributing editor Courtney Rubin was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.

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