March 21st is Taco Bell’s Anniversary!
Admit it. You’ve eaten there. You probably even have a favorite item on the menu. And who can resist a talking Chihuahua? But did you know that Taco Bell got its start as a hot dog stand?
The “Bell” in Taco Bell comes from founder Glen Bell. The 23-year-old former Marine, arrived in San Bernadino, California, just after World War II with dreams of opening a miniature golf course. But after considering the costs of starting up such a venture, Bell opened something a little more affordable – a hot dog stand. Bell’s drive-in was a one-man operation.
In a few years, Bell sold that stand and opened a bigger, better one, selling hot dogs and hamburgers. Unfortunately, the McDonald brothers were also starting their first joint in the same town! So Bell investigated alternative menu items. Being an avid Mexican food fan, he was frustrated with the wait when ordering tacos to go from a restaurant. So he decided to do something about it.
“My plan,” he says, “was to obtain a location in a Mexican neighborhood. That way, if tacos were successful, potential competitors would write it off the location and assume that the idea wouldn’t sell anywhere else.”
He searched out a good location on a busy main street, and started selling hot dogs again, including a chili dog. In fact, the chili dog’s sauce he created would later become Taco Bell’s taco sauce! Bell also started experimenting with ways to prepare tacos quickly and efficiently. Unlike the restaurants, he started frying the taco shells ahead of time. (Food manufacturers picked up his idea for commercially fried taco shells.)
Once the recipe and proportions were perfected, Bell sold his tasty tacos for 19 cents. “I’ll never forget the first taco customer,” he says, “because naturally, I was really concerned about his reaction. He was dressed in a suit, and as he bit into the taco the juice ran down his sleeve and dripped on his tie. I thought, ‘We’ve lost this one,’ but he came back, amazingly enough, and said, ‘That was good, I’ll take another one!’”
With business picking up, Bell opened a second stand and hired Ed Hackbarth to run in. (Ed later became the founder of Del Taco!) Soon, Bell gave up hot dogs and focused on tacos. He opened three Taco-Tias (his first stands were named for his daughter), which he later sold to his partners. He finally opened the first Taco Bell in Downey, California, on March 21, 1962.
By 1975, Bell made a deal with PepsiCo, selling them his controlling shares of Taco Bell and in turn becoming millions richer as a major PepsiCo shareholder. PepsiCo opened its first international Taco Bell in Guam in 1977. And from there a taco phenomenon was launched.
More Taco Bell Fun Facts:
- Taco Bell now serves more than 2 billion diners each year in more than 5,800 restaurants in the US.
- In 2000, Taco Bell ran a full-page ad in the New York Times announcing that it bought the Liberty Bell to “reduce the country’s debt” and renamed it “the Taco Bell Liberty Bell.” April Fool’s!
- In March 2001, Taco Bell offered to give everyone in the US a free taco if the Mir space station hits a floating taco target placed in the South Pacific.
- In September 2004, Taco Bell invited customers to “Share Your Sauce Wisdom,” printing witty phrases on hot sauce packets.
- In June 2009, Taco Bell signed a deal with Billy Mays to shoot infomercial-style commercials for the chain. His unexpected death canceled those plans.
- On July 21, 2009, Gidget, the Chihuahua featured in Taco Bell ads, was euthanized after suffering a stroke. She was 15 years old.
- On January 17, 2010, founder Glen Bell passed away. He was 86 years old.
- Nearly 150 million people see a Taco Bell commercial once a week – more than half the US population.
- Over 2 billion tacos and 1 billion burritos of all varieties are served in Taco Bell restaurants each year.
- Taco Bell is open in the US, Guam, Canada, Cyprus, Greece, Iceland, India, Philippines, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.
- The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Canada are the only countries where Taco Bell offers French fries.
Quote of the Day:
“You had me at taco.” ~ Taco Bell Sauce Packet