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The History of Taco Bell

Glen William Bell Jr. first discovered tacos while attempting to find success with a burger and hot dog stand. Bell was fascinated by the offerings at Mitla Café, a Mexican-owned restaurant across the street. He learned that the tortillas filled with meat and cheese were called tacos and observed how to make them; then he got to work in his own kitchen. He experimented with frying hard-shelled tacos, which he thought would be less messy to eat on the go. He even got a man who made chicken coops to fashion him a fry basket out of chicken wire. Bell also developed his own seasoning and sauce. In December 1951, Bell added a 19-cent taco to the menu at his burger and hot dog restaurant. The tacos quickly became a hit, though his early customers regularly mispronounced the name, referring to them as “take-ohs.” Soon Bell became involved in the founding of several taco-related enterprises, but it wasn’t until 1962, after having sold his interests in his different partnerships, that he struck out on his own. He purchased a plot of land on Firestone Boulevard in Downey, California and created a courtyard of open-air shops that he referred to as “Plaza Guadalajara.” He named one of those shops Taco Bell — it was a small food stand designed by Robert McKay. Reportedly, Bell chose the name because his surname was often the butt of jokes in childhood and he wanted to give it a “positive ring.” There were five items on the original Taco Bell menu — tostadas, burritos, tacos, frijoles, and hamburgers made with taco meat. Taco Bell was an immediate hit and Bell soon opened several more locations in California. (The original building, referred to as Taco Bell Numero Uno, was actually picked up and moved to company headquarters in 2014.) The first franchised location opened in 1965 and just two years later, there were 100 Taco Bell locations! In 1978, Bell sold the company to PepsiCo for $125 million (it was sold again later). The chain continued to gain popularity as time went on and over the years, the restaurant introduced many unique offerings, including Doritos Locos Tacos and the Crunchwrap Supreme. While it is sometimes credited with bringing Mexican food to the masses, the reality is that Taco Bell offers an Americanized menu with very limited similarities to traditional Mexican cuisine. Still, Taco Bell remains one of the most popular Mexican-style fast food chains in America today and has locations not only in all 50 states, but in 32 countries as well.

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