DOWNEY -- A piece of Taco Bell history is a lot safer today after the fast food giant agreed to transport its very first restaurant from Downey to its headquarters in Irvine.
Lifted from its original foundation, the 53-year-old building will arrive in Irvine on Friday morning after traveling 45 miles through Downey, Norwalk, Cerritos, La Palma, Buena Park, Anaheim, Tustin, and Orange.
“This is arguably the most important restaurant in our company’s history,” said Brian Niccol, chief executive officer of Taco Bell. “To think a business like ours, that spans 6,000 restaurants around the globe, started with a walk-up window no bigger than a two-car garage is truly inspirational.”
Glen Bell started his first Taco Bell restaurant in 1962 as the centerpiece of a Mexican-inspired strip mall with shops, live music, and fire pits. It was here at 7112 Firestone Blvd. that Bell helped revolutionize the quick-service industry by bringing Mexican-inspired meals to his customers.
In 1986, the Downey restaurant closed as larger restaurants with indoor seating and drive-thrus grew in popularity. Since then, the restaurant has hosted other taqueria eateries until the building was permanently vacated in December 2014.
The decision to save and relocate the structure, which Taco Bell has dubbed “Numero Uno,” comes months after local preservation groups protested after learning the site was in danger of demolition.
“When we saw a green construction fence go up around it, we knew that wasn’t a good sign,” said George Redfox, president of The Downey Conservancy. “We did our part in raising awareness and Taco Bell reached out to us.”
“When we heard about the chance of it being demolished, we had to step in,” said Niccol. “We owe that to our fans, we owe that to Glen Bell.”
Matt Prince, a spokesman for Taco Bell, said the company reviewed many options, including moving the restaurant to a temporary spot on city or county property.
“We went through all the different scenarios, but we decided moving it here was the best bet,” he said.
In January, Taco Bell began a social media campaign, encouraging customers to tweet #SaveTacoBell and the corporation hired conservation non-profit We Are The Next to oversee the building’s relocation.
“This building isn’t designed by a famous architect, and it’s not particularly beautiful in the conventional sense,” said Katie Rispoli, executive director of We Are The Next and a resident of Downey. “But it does demonstrate how even the most ordinary buildings can tell tremendous stories.”
Prince said the original restaurant will sit on display in front of corporate offices in Irvine for roughly two weeks before being moved to a back lot for the following six months.
As far as the future of the building goes, Taco Bell definitely wants its fans involved.
“We will put together some real feasible options and make [our customers] a part of the process,” Prince said.