Taco Bell Founder Dies At 86

The man who launched the popular Taco Bell food chain died at this home in Rancho Santa Fe on Sunday. Glen W. Bell Jr. was 86. He opened his first Taco Bell in 1962, after experimenting with several other fast food-style restaurants in Southern California. The fast-food chain now has more than 5,600 locations across the U.S.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

One of the most successful fast food pioneers has died, the man behind Taco Bell. His restaurants became the country's largest Mexican fast food chain with more than 36 million customers a week.

NPR's Howard Berkes has this remembrance of Glen Bell Jr.

HOWARD BERKES: Most people know Taco Bell either for the food, like the quickie deep-fried chalupa or the talking dog, the Spanish-speaking Chihuahua searching for his Taco Bell.

(Soundbite of TV ad)

Unidentified Man: Yo quiero Taco Bell.

BERKES: Well, Taco Bell founder Glen Bell didn't have anything to do with either, at least directly. Bell started the Mexican fast food chain in 1962 after trying to emulate McDonald's with burgers and hotdogs. Bell switched to takeout tacos to make his restaurants different. And he was so successful that PepsiCo bought Taco Bell 16 years later for stock worth $125 million. Yum brands owns the chain now and still draws from Bell's approach, according to Blair Chancey, editor of QSR magazine, which tracks the quick service restaurant business.

Ms. BLAIR CHANCEY (Editor, QSR): I can see he really started that whole entrepreneurial spirit early on. Now, I mean, they have funky ad campaigns, and they try really new different things, but that was something that he established earlier on that that was inherent in the culture of the brand.

BERKES: Chancey also credits Bell with making Mexican fast food a national phenomenon with more than 5,000 Taco Bells and competitors like Taco Time and Chipotle.

Ms. CHANCEY: It probably couldn't have happened if Taco Bell hadn't come on the scene first and really introduced people to Mexican food. This was a chain that came out of California, but you have to think that people on the East Coast now eat Taco Bell, where normally if they hadn't been taught about this type of food before, they probably wouldn't have ever even tried it.

BERKES: Like or hate Mexican fast food, Glen Bell deserves much of the credit or the blame. Bell died at his home in California yesterday at age 86.

Howard Berkes, NPR News.

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