Taco Bell's 50th anniversary celebrated in Downey

DOWNEY - The year was 1962 and a young Glen Bell was searching for the perfect location to launch his new taco restaurant.Following his moderate success with Taco Tias and El Taco, Bell began envisioning something different, a small village plaza with retail shops, mariachis, fire pits and a taco stand. Russ and Mary Jones, two of Bell's first employees, remember Bell's humble beginnings. "My husband and I worked with him for quite some time. A big man, very tall...jovial, outgoing, always happy," said Mary Jones. "Mr. Bell always had big ideas - good ideas. It really was his idea to turn taco stands into takeout businesses." Borrowing the formula of popular eateries like McDonalds, Bell selected a large parcel at 7112 Firestone Boulevard near the thriving middle-class neighborhoods of Downey and built a Mexican-themed restaurant named Taco Bell that eventually made tacos, burritos and quesadillas everyday food choices around the world. Hoping to keep the legacy alive 50 years after Bell started the famous franchise, the Downey Conservancy marked the milestone on Wednesday night with a fitting celebration, paying tribute to Taco Bell's history while calling for the preservation of the original building, which still stands. With cake and tacos in hand, dozens of community members along with representatives from Taco Bell Corp. gathered together for the informal meeting inside the Taco Bell at 7127 Firestone Blvd. across the street from Bell's first location. The Downey Conservancy recognized property owner Jerry Andrews and Mexican restaurant Seafood and Tacos Raul, which currently occupies the historic site. George Redfox, president of the Downey Conservancy, hopes the celebration, and others like it, will raise the awareness of Downey's cultural landmarks, many of which could be demolished at any time. "A lot of people don't know what we have. This is something we should all be proud of," said Redfox. "We decided to have celebrations for Downey businesses that have been around a while, like Chris and Pitts and Stox Restaurant. If people know the history, hopefully they'll preserve it." Kathy Perez, a board member of the Downey Conservancy, suggested a Taco Bell celebration after realizing this year marked 50 years since Bell opened his first restaurant inside a brick and stucco complex he called "Plaza Guadalajara." "On March 21, Mr. Bell opened right there," Perez said. "Taco Bell brought notoriety to our city - it went beyond our borders. We want to bring awareness to the public and pay tribute to businesses that contribute to the culture behind Downey - it's who we are. This is an appreciation for what makes Downey unique." In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Taco Bell Corp. had its own private gathering at its Irvine headquarters on Wednesday. Greg Creed, CEO of the company, released a statement praising Bell, saying the restaurant mogul "forever changed Americans' palates when he introduced Mexican-inspired food with the launch of the first Taco Bell in Downey 50 years ago." Mary Jones agrees and remains grateful to Bell, who died at age 86 in 2010, for helping her family start their own restaurant chain, Taco Quickie. "He helped my husband and I get our start," said Jones. "When he was going into the franchises, he knew we wanted our own business so he sold us one of his locations and helped us get into our own business. He was one of the finest persons you could ever meet."

********** Published: March 22, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 49