Glen Bell, who opened first Taco Bell in Downey, dies

DOWNEY - Glen Bell Jr., who opened the nation's first Taco Bell franchise in Downey more than 40 years ago, died Sunday at his home in Rancho Santa Fe. He was 86.One of the founding fathers of fast food and pioneer of the Mexican quick-service restaurant, Bell made his first venture in the restaurant business in 1948, when he opened Bell's Drive-In in San Bernardino. Bell founded his restaurant after he and his San Bernardino High School classmate, Neal Baker, had closely studied the success of the McDonald's brothers and their namesake burger establishments. The car culture was booming in 1948 and Bell was on the cusp of developing restaurants that offered revolutionary changes to its customers: these restaurants had drive-ins, streamlined menus and quick service, which met a growing need of customers to eat on the go. Bell's Drive-In first served a menu with hamburgers and hot dogs. However, Bell soon decided to differentiate his menu by adding Mexican fare. Once he perfected his taco shell recipe, taco sauces and the convenient drive-thru concept, he was ready to introduce the tastes and textures of Mexican food to mainstream America. Between 1954-1955, Bell and a business partner built three drive-thru taco stands in Southern California called Taco Tias. Since Bell's partner was not in favor of expanding the Taco Tias, Bell sold his interest in the taco stands. In 1958, Bell and a new group of business partners opened El Tacos in the Long Beach area. While El Tacos expanded throughout California and was extremely profitable, Bell sold his shares of the business because he was ready to start his own venture. In 1961, not content with just perfecting the quick-service Mexican food concept, Bell, together with his employee John Galardi, started Der Wienerschnitzel. Galardi went on to make Der Wienerschnitzel into a chain of its own, while another employee of Bell left to open his own drive-in, a chain that would become Del Taco. Taco Bell became a reality in 1962 when Bell opened the first restaurant on Firestone Boulevard in Downey. He followed with eight small Taco Bell units in Long Beach, Paramount and the Los Angeles area. From there, he further expanded his restaurant chain and sold the first Taco Bell franchise in 1964. In 1978, Bell sold his 868 Taco Bell restaurants to PepsiCo. Today, Taco Bell is owned by Yum Brands, the world's largest restaurant company. After selling Taco Bell to PepsiCo, he made his full-time home in Rancho Santa Fe. About this time, family members said he became enthralled by Valley Center, a farming community in San Diego County. He built Bell Gardens there, a 115-acre model produce farm and landscaped park that he opened to the public. Bell Gardens provided educational programs that stressed the importance of agriculture and how to preserve our natural resources. A World War II veteran, Bell was born Sept. 3, 1923 in Lynwood. He served in the Marine Corps and his unit participated in battles at Guadalcanal and Guam as well as post-war service in China before heading home. In 2008, Nation's Restaurant News named Bell as the recipient of its Pioneer Award, one of the most prestigious awards in the food industry. "The entire Taco Bell family of franchisees and employees are deeply saddened by the loss of the founder of Taco Bell," said Greg Creed, president and chief concept officer of Taco Bell. "Glen was a visionary and innovator in the restaurant industry, as well as a dedicated family man. His innovative business acumen started out of humble beginnings and created one of the nation's largest restaurant chains in Taco Bell. Mr. Bell introduced an entire nation to the taco and Mexican cuisine."

********** Published: January 22, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 40

ObituariesEric Pierce