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 toldNation'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.