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Taco Bell: A History

Taco Bell: A History

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This chain has quite an interesting background

Wikimedia Commons

Early Taco Bells sported a decidedly different look.

Did you know that Taco Bell is named after its founder? His name was Glen Bell, and without him we’d be down one seriously major fast food chain.

The story of Taco Bell begins with, of course, Glen Bell, and a hot dog stand called Bell’s Drive-In that he opened in San Bernardino, California in 1946, at age 23. Four years later he opened a hamburger stand called Bell’s Hamburgers and Hot Dogs in a Latino neighborhood in San Bernardino, and noticed that a Mexican restaurant across the street called Mitla Cafe attracted long lines for its hard-shelled tacos.

Over the next two years, Bell dined there frequently, attempting to reverse-engineer the hard-shell taco recipe. Eventually, he became good enough friends with the owners that they showed him how they were made. By early 1952, he had opened up a taco stand of his own, which he dubbed Taco-Tia.

The restaurant took off, and over the next few years Bell bought several more taco stands, including four called El Taco. In 1962 he sold off his existing restaurants and opened the very first Taco Bell in Downey, California with a franchise plan. Within two years he’d sold his first franchise, and by 1967 100 Taco Bells were in business. The rest, as they say, is history.

Discontinued Taco Bell Items You Probably Forgot Existed

The Taco Bell food you enjoy today is probably not the same grub you enjoyed in your younger years. That's not a huge surprise — menus change. Fast food establishments are constantly tweaking their offerings to figure out the best concoctions for their customers. Sometimes a joint will try new and different things to remain in step with the ever-evolving tastes of the world. and then there's Taco Bell. The Border has tried to keep up with those trend-setting tastes some have hit, and others. not so much. Not all of these misses were epic fails, however. Some of these are a bit of a mystery as to why they disappeared. In fact, you might take a look at this list and get a craving for an old favorite you forgot even existed. Here's a look at some Taco Bell items that probably slipped your memory, and your taste buds.

Employee ‘exposes’ how Taco Bell beans are made in viral TikTok video

Panera, McDonald’s, and Chick-fil-A have all had their menu items seemingly exposed by employees online. Now, the time has come for the well-known beacon of Americanized Mexican cuisine: Taco Bell beans.

In the POV-style TikTok, a Taco Bell employee is shown walking viewers through their typical process of making the refried beans, which essentially involves stirring hot water into a bin of dehydrated beans and mixing it for several minutes until thickened.

The TikTok went viral and eventually made its way to the Twitter-sphere, where it went even more viral and garnered mixed reactions. A user who posted the video on Twitter claimed they “literally gagged” when watching it. The feelings were mutual for many.

Another Twitter user who claimed to be a former employee for the restaurant seemingly confirmed that, yes, “those are the beans” before questioning the quality of the other menu items. “It’s disgusting,” they wrote of the food prep.

Yea I worked at Taco Bell. Those are the beans. EVERYTHING the cheese sauce beef it has to be made and prepped like that. It’s disgusting! The only real thing there is the fucking flat bread they use to make the chalupa. That “steak” look like kangaroo meat!

&mdash SAUCIER + 333 (@YoungSweetJMZ) September 6, 2020

While many called the process “disgusting” and “appalling,” others quickly pointed out that dried beans are completely normal and that this is a standard, routine process for a fast-food restaurant.

It wasn’t long before people cracked jokes and made memes about the whole thing. “This is absolutely appalling. my whole life i thought taco bell grew their beans in a local organic garden where they were picked fresh every morning,” one Twitter user satirically wrote.

this is absolutely appalling. my whole life i thought taco bell grew their beans in a local organic garden where they were picked fresh every morning

&mdash rudy betrayed (@rudy_betrayed) September 7, 2020

Additionally, many pointed out that Taco Bell is, after all, a fast-food restaurant and that it shouldn’t be surprising this is the way its beans are made.

Others also seemed pretty disgusted upon finding out about the preparation process, but it admittedly isn’t going to stop them from eating there anytime soon.

Transforming the Taco: The Origins of Taco Bell

“I always smile when I hear people say that they never had a taco until Taco Bell came to town.” –Glen Bell Jr.

"Glen worked 18-hour days, seven days a week. When you’re building a business and growing fast, it’s hard. There were a lot of problems. Glen was successful because he didn’t give up." –Robert L. Trujillo.

It was a strange sight. In November 2015, a large flatbed truck wound through the nighttime streets of Downey, at a snail’s-pace of 20-miles an hour. Strapped to it was the first Taco Bell, opened by founder Glen Bell Jr. in 1962. The 400-square-foot building, known to loyal customers as “numero uno,” was being taken from its original location at 7126 Firestone Blvd. to company headquarters in Irvine. Vacated by Taco Bell in 1986, vacant since 2014, the building was to be put in storage until the company decided what to do with it. Fans of the fast food institution trailed behind the lumbering truck. "This building started it all," Taco Bell spokesman Matt Price exclaimed when it finally arrived at its new home (where it still resides) in the early morning. "It's No. 1 in our hearts."

Bell, who died in 2010, may have begged to differ. For the innovative, restless Bell, the opening of the first Taco Bell was simply the idea that finally caught fire, after a decade of working to bring a Mexican-inspired menu to the masses.

Glen William Bell Jr. was born in Lynwood, California in 1923. His family were the poor relations of a well-to-do family, and his mother struggled to put food on the table, receiving sporadic help from her ne’er-do-well husband. When Bell was a preteen, the family moved to the rural farming community of Cedar Springs, outside of San Bernardino. Glen often helped his mother with chores, and in the process became a good cook–his sister remembered especially enjoying his French fries. At the height of the depression, a teenage Bell rode the rails around the American Southwest on summer breaks from school, looking for work and hanging out with “hobos.” These early experiences made him understand the importance of comfort food in peoples' lives. “Glen used to say, when people were about broke with very little money, they would spend their last dime on a hamburger,” his brother Merrill recalled.

During one of his summer adventures, Bell stayed with his elderly Aunt Mary in Tacoma, Washington. He convinced her to go into business with him, and soon they were selling “Mrs. Dyes Homemade Pies.” “I got really fast at it,” Bell remembered. “I learned with pie dough, the less you mix it, the more tender it is.” The pair also sold puffed wheat, a popular depression era staple. By the end of the summer, the small enterprise had made an astonishing $3000 profit. Bell continued to hone his kitchen skills during World War II. He joined the U.S. Marines, where he prepared and served food to high ranking generals and admirals in a commissary on the Solomon Islands.

When Bell returned home to San Bernardino, he followed the normal GI path. He got married, established a household, and tried out several different career paths. He would often meet his buddies at McDonalds, where he would marvel at the success of the McDonald brothers. After a lifetime in food service, he decided to go into business for himself, and leased a tiny plot of land near a popular public swimming pool. He bought a grill on credit, and built a tiny hamburger-stand with his own two hands. “I must have looked like I knew what I was doing,” Bell recalled. “Because people who saw me work offered construction jobs, and I made a few extra dollars on the side.”

Bell’s Hamburgers opened in March of 1948. Bell soon opened another hamburger stand on the corner of Oak and Mount Vernon, in a predominately Latino neighborhood on the outskirts of San Bernardino. Although business was brisk, Bell saw the writing on the wall. Due to the astounding success of the McDonald brothers, hamburger stands would soon saturate Southern California. Bell needed a hook. He found it in a Mexican-owned restaurant across the street, where they served delicious tortillas filled with meat and cheese. They called these mouth-watering treats tacos. His friends at the restaurant began to teach him how to make the yummy snack, and soon he was experimenting in his own kitchen–attempting to fry a hard-shelled taco that would be less messy and easy to eat on the go. “I worked with an equipment salesman who contacted a man who made chicken coops,” Bell recalled. “He made a fry basket for me out of chicken wire.”

That problem solved, Glen went to work making his own version of seasoning and sauce. “I mixed tomato puree with chopped fresh onions, garlic, cayenne pepper, vinegar and Mexican spices,” he remembered, “and left out the liquid smoke.” He loved cooking tacos for many reasons, including the fact that cooking taco meat in a pan was much cleaner than spending 12-hours in front of a hot grill flipping burgers. “It bubbles rather that sizzles,” said Bell, “which makes a big difference.”

By December 1951, Bell was ready to put his hunch to the ultimate test. One cool morning, he added a 19 cent taco to the menu and waited for a customer to order one. His first customer, a man from the neighborhood, bought a hot dog and nothing else. Next came a man in a loud, pinstriped suit, who Bell took to be a salesman. According to biographer Debra Lee Baldwin:

Bell’s intuition had been correct. Tacos were a hit. Over the next ten years, the tireless Bell would be involved in the creation of a number of fast food enterprises, most of them involving the taco. With partners, he founded Taco Tia, El Taco, and helped his friend John Galardi open the first Wienerschnitzel. One of his first employees and partners was Ed Hackbarth, who would go on to found the popular Del Taco. “All of Glen’s instincts are right,” Galardi would say years later. “His thoughts had to do with freshness, quick service and happy customers. The money didn’t matter to him. The customer came first. Business people need a product, and creative types like Glen provided it.”

During the ‘50s, Bell also got divorced. He soon remarried a school teacher named Martha, who would be his tireless supporter through 54 years of marriage.

By 1962, having sold all his interests in his different partnerships, Bell was ready to strike out on his own. He bought a plot of land on Firestone Boulevard in Downey, and built a courtyard of open air shops that he called “Plaza Guadalajara.” One of the shops was a small “south-of-the-border” style food stand designed by architect Robert McKay, which he named “Taco Bell.” “I’d been teased about my name when I was a kid, ding-dong Bell, that sort of thing,” Bell recalled. “This gave the name a positive ring, no pun intended.”

The fast-food restaurant, with its outdoor eating area and five item menu of tostadas, burritos, tacos, frijoles and hamburgers (made with taco meat), was an immediate hit. Within two years, Taco Bell was in Gardena, Altadena, and Pasadena. Each new grand opening was a community event. “There were search lights, mariachis, and free hats. You can imagine what people were thinking,” friend Bob Trujillo remembered. “They thought it was a World’s Fair or something, and it was just this little taco stand. During one grand opening, my wife Phyllis and I drove by, and we couldn’t believe it. There was Glen on the roof of the building, fixing balloons. He loved grand openings.”

From there, Taco Bell’s success skyrocketed. The first franchised Taco Bell opened in 1965. In 1967, Taco Bell’s 100 th location opened in Anaheim. Bell was over the moon. “I was as excited as if I had found gold,” he recalled. Bell believed that Taco Bell’s amazing trajectory was due to his 60 “Recipes for Success,” which he believed could help anyone succeed. The top three rules were:

1. You build a business one customer at a time.
2. Find the right product, then find a way to mass-produce it.
3. An innovative product will set you apart.

Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, Taco Bell continued to expand all across America at break-neck speed. Many credited Bell with bringing Mexican food to the masses, although those who had grown up with authentic Mexican food strongly disagreed. By 1977, there were 759 Taco Bells in 38 states. Only a year later, when Bell sold the company to PepsiCo for $125 million, it boasted 868 locations. Not bad for a farm boy from rural San Bernardino, who started out with only a hunch, a dream and a tireless drive to succeed.

Bell Beefer (Taco Sloppy Joe)

Bell Beefer (Taco Sloppy Joe) is a Mexican-style Sloppy Joe sandwich the way Taco Bell used to make them back in the day.

Bell Beefer (Taco Sloppy Joe)

By Sue Lau | Palatable Pastime

Today my recipe hearkens back to the days when Taco Bell still made their bell beefer. As I recall, this was a favorite of my niece Tiffany when she was little (she was also a bit of a steak connoisseur, although she preferred a good old-fashioned Hershey bar to a Belgian chocolate).

And occasionally I really miss these sandwiches myself, since they were about as close as one could get to being a sloppy joe from a fast-food joint, and I have never stopped being a fan of those.

So you may see me go from haute sweetbread recipes to down-home comfort food. There is something in common here- and that is that these kinds of foods are hard to get unless you make them yourself. And you know, I get so very tired of the same old, same old. Everybody and his brother always make the same things, mostly, I think, because they are probably afraid of being different, because different isn’t always proven out in guaranteed sales.

These are really quite easy to make, especially now that the company is marketing some of their product to grocery stores. You can always make your own sauce and seasoning, or use another brand. It should taste pretty close. I know I would do that, and I also toast my buns- not something I recall them doing at the restaurant (although the memories of it are many years old now), but I do love a good toasted bun.

The flavors on eating this refresh my memory a bit and it does taste the way I remember (except the toasted bun) but that part makes it even better. So for everyone who has been pining for one of these (now retro) sandwiches, here ya’ go. This is homestyle gourmet and I love it.

Bell Beefer (Taco Sloppy Joe)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 30mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • 1 ounce packet Taco Bell original taco seasoning
  • 1/4 cup Taco Bell mild taco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Other Items:

  • 4-6 sandwich buns
  • shredded iceberg lettuce
  • finely shredded cheddar cheese
  • finely diced tomato
  • Taco Bell mild (or other spice level) taco sauce
  1. Brown ground beef and crumble drain excess fat.
  2. Add taco seasoning, taco sauce, minced onion, tomato paste, sugar and 2 cups hot water.
  3. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes on low. Raise heat and continue to cook, stirring, until liquid dissipates.
  4. Serve sandwich mixture on toasted buns with shredded lettuce, diced tomato, shredded cheese and extra taco sauce as desired.

From the kitchen of

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Mexico just doesn't need more tacos

One of the biggest reasons why Taco Bell flopped in Mexico is also one of the most obvious reasons: Mexico just doesn't need a fast-food version of one of their most popular local foods. In the book Tortillas: A Cultural History, historian Carlos Monsiváis said that Taco Bell's attempt to open restaurants in Mexico was "like bringing ice to the Arctic." Given the fact that the brand's first attempt to infiltrate the market only lasted for less than two years, it makes sense that, on their second try, they decided to take a completely different approach. For the 2007 expansion attempt, the slogan of the Mexican Taco Bell locations was "Taco Bell Is Something Else," which represented an effort by the brand to differentiate themselves.

This time, they came right out and Taco Bell embraced its uniquely American approach to vaguely Mexican menu items. PR director Rob Poetsch told Ad Age, "We're not trying to be authentic Mexican food, so we're not competing with taquerias." The brand was betting on the fact that value and convenience would entice customers to choose Taco Bell over a more authentic alternative.

However, not everyone familiar with the brand's inner workings believed in this strategy. Scott Montgomery, a creative officer who once worked on Taco Bell's advertising, found the very concept offensive. "We're putting up a fence so they can't get through, but we're going to push tacos through the fence. It's offensive," he said.

4 taco recipes you’ll want to make again and again

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Welcome to Best Bites, a video series that aims to satisfy your never-ending craving for food content through quick, beautiful videos for the at-home foodie.

Tacos are a delicious and easy-to-make meal. In this episode of “Best Bites,” we show you how to make tacos four different ways, all packed with fresh, healthy and colorful ingredients.

While the origins of the taco aren’t totally clear, Jeffrey M. Pilcher, professor of food history at the University or Toronto and taco expert, once told Smithsonian Magazine that he believes that 18 century Mexican silver miners are the likely inventors of the taco. However, it was Mexican Americans that revamped the taco and arguably Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell, that popularized it for the mass American market.

Here, we’re making shrimp, chicken, pulled pork and black bean tacos. You can check out the recipes in the video above and listed below!

1. Sriracha Shrimp Tacos


  • 2 corn tortillas
  • 1 cup purple cabbage slaw
  • 1 cup shrimp, grilled
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon sriracha (or to taste)
  • 1 lime


  1. Heat corn tortillas for 30-45 seconds on each side. Keep the heated tortillas warm until use by placing them into a kitchen towel.
  2. Top the tortilla with shredded purple cabbage slaw.
  3. Αdd a few grilled shrimp.
  4. Mix sour cream and sriracha. Top tacos with sauce and fresh lime juice.

2. Black Bean and Sweet Potato


  • 2 corn tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons refried black beans
  • 2 tablespoons sautéed sweet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon cotija cheese
  • chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Heat corn tortillas for 30-45 seconds on each side. Keep the heated tortillas warm until use by placing them into a kitchen towel.
  2. Top the tortilla with the refried black beans.
  3. Αdd the sautéed sweet potatoes.
  4. Sprinkle the cotija cheese.
  5. Top with chopped fresh cilantro.

3. Chili Lime Chicken Tacos with Pineapple Salsa


  • 2 corn tortillas
  • ½ cup Jack cheese
  • 2 tablespoons grilled chicken, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon pineapple salsa
  • 1 tablespoon avocado crema


  1. Heat corn tortillas for 30-45 seconds on each side. Keep the heated tortillas warm until use by placing them into a kitchen towel.
  2. Top with Jack cheese and melt.
  3. Add the grilled chicken.
  4. Add the pineapple salsa.
  5. Drizzle the avocado crema and enjoy.

4. Pulled Pork Tacos with Avocado Crema


  • 2 corn tortillas
  • 1/2 cup purple cabbage, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons pulled pork
  • 2 tablespoons cubed avocado
  • 1 tablespoon avocado crema
  • 1 tablespoon pineapple salsa
  • chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Heat corn tortillas for 30-45 seconds on each side. Keep the heated tortillas warm until use by placing them into a kitchen towel.
  2. Top with purple shredded cabbage.
  3. Add the pulled pork, cubed avocado, avocado crema and pineapple salsa.
  4. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to these four recipes for guacamole.

Taco Bell Wouldn't Exist Without San Bernardino's Mitla Cafe

Longstanding Mitla Cafe has been left out of fast food history.

By just about any standard, 1937 was a tough year for America. Battered by the Great Depression and already fearful of the impending Second World War, it was a time of unease for most middle class families. And uncertainty loves company.

So in small, dusty, still heavily segregated Route 66 towns like San Bernardino, people felt the need to gather. On the west side of the city, where the Mexican families were allowed to live, that meeting point became Mitla Cafe on Mount Vernon Avenue.

1937 is the year that Lucia Rodriguez first threw open the front door, serving cheesy Mexican comfort food versions of dishes like chile rellenos alongside more nuanced daily specials. People came early and often, sidling into one of the hand-sewn brown leather coffee counter seats and chatting with their neighbors over a cup of coffee before moving on to start the day. Families arrived on weekends, anchored by the friendly atmosphere and kid-friendly menu.

People came early and often, sidling into one of the hand-sewn brown leather coffee counter seats

Important people in the Mexican community started showing up, too. Cesar Chavez was a known regular who would frequent Mitla when he could. Salvador Rodriguez, husband to Lucia, pulled in businessmen and politicians, warming them with a hot meal and plenty of talk. Burdened by their own lack of access, those same local heavyweights would go on to form the Mexican Chamber of Commerce. They'd meet at Mitla, taking up booths and tables to discuss the next great leap forward for the city.

Mexican-American baseball teams finished their games with a meal at Mitla. Church leaders led their congregation to the dining room on Sunday afternoons. Parades, demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience stemming from the city’s growing discomfort with its own outright racism all started at Mitla, and would go on to change the landscape of the Inland Empire.

Glen Bell also came to Mitla Cafe. It's a story now widely circulated thanks to OC Weekly’s Gustavo Arellano and his book Taco USA. Bell would go on to found Taco Bell from a small standalone building in Downey (which, coincidentally, is now in serious trouble) in 1962, but earned his humble beginning in the years prior by selling hamburgers and hot dogs across the street from Mitla Cafe.

Bell, as legend holds, watched lines form for the cafe’s signature ten cent tacos dorados, a thinly fried tortilla shell lined with simple meats, shredded cheese and diced tomatoes. The entrepreneur befriended staff and family alike, working his way into the kitchen in order to decipher the secrets behind the beguiling taco that was proving so popular in what was then San Bernardino’s barrio district. Bell wanted in on the blossoming Southern California fast food trend, and he bet successfully that even non-Mexicans would bite on the concept of casual, toned down tacos.

Bell wanted in on the blossoming Southern California fast food trend

But that’s not the story that Mitla Cafe deserves. It’s not even a rare one — disenfranchised Mexican Americans were discounted, cheated and overlooked for decades before and after Glen Bell, with little in the way of retribution available to them. The story that Mitla deserves is one of vitality and enduring success. The original cafe still stands, in the same location, with a historic designation sign outside and framed photographs on the walls inside, showing generations of important Mexican American history, some lost to time and others well known. More than a simple all day eatery, Mitla still stands as the voice of a quiet revolution that helped expand Mexican food throughout the world, that brought relative peace to a neighborhood and a city that was desperate for it.

You can still get those crispy tacos, by the way, ground beef and all. They bear a striking resemblance to Taco Bell’s own concoction, just as they have for nearly 80 years. But they’re made to order at Mitla, served with a side of community, respect and history.

Mitla Cafe
602 N. Mount Vernon Ave.
San Bernardino, CA 92411

In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef with the flour, chili powder, salt, minced onion, paprika, onion powder and garlic powder. Use your hands to thoroughly mix the ingredients into the ground beef.

Add the seasoned beef mixture to the water in a skillet over medium heat. Mix well with a wooden spoon or spatula, and break up the meat as it cooks. Heat for 5-6 minutes, or until browned. The finished product should be very smooth, somewhat pasty, with no large chunks of beef remaining.

Heat tortillas in microwave 20-30 seconds, or until warm.

Build each taco by spooning 2 to 3 tablespoons of the meat into a warm tortilla. Sprinkle cheese on top. Repeat with remaining ingredients and serve immediately.

…and what about the “Taco Corn Shell” because no one eats the beef by itself.

Don’t even get me started. Ok fine. I will tell you. But it isn’t pretty. Traditional corn tortillas or taco shells are usually made with corn, salt, water, oil and maybe a little lime. Taco Bell takes this beautiful recipe and wrecks it with TBHQ, and many forms of suspected GMO oils – including one of the worst – cottonseed oil, that is regulated like a textile crop vs. a food crop, meaning it can contain much worse types of toxic pesticides.

The reason I say “suspected GMO oils” is because we’ve asked Taco Bell whether they use any GMO ingredients, and they have yet to provide a statement on GMOs. But if I were betting in vegas on this, I am pretty sure I’d come out as a winner winner, chicken dinner.

Also, if you are daring enough to get the XXL Taco, you’ll be eating parabens, which are endocrine disruptors linked to cancer. If you try the Doritos Loco Taco, you’ll get a nice dose of excitotoxins that can kill brain cells and artificial food dye made from petroleum.

Watch the video: Taco Bell. The Rise and Fall, then Rise AGAIN (May 2022).