Glen W. Bell Jr., the innovator and entrepreneur who tapped an unsated hunger for Mexican fare as Americans discovered fast food, creating Taco Tia, El Taco and in 1962 his signature Taco Bell, has died. He was 86.
Mr. Bell, who had had Parkinson's disease since 1985, died Sunday at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., north of San Diego, the company announced. No cause of death was given.
"We changed the eating habits of an entire nation," Mr. Bell said in his 1999 biography, "Taco Titan: The Glen Bell Story."
That he did.
When post-World War II Americans began to realize they could no longer survive without cheaply purchased, quickly delivered hamburgers, Mr. Bell, who was born and raised in Southern California, looked for another simple staple of the masses.
He chose the taco, which he first sold in 1951 for 19 cents each at Bell's Hamburgers and Hot Dogs in San Bernardino, Calif.
Eventually, Mr. Bell coaxed multiethnic palates across the country into salivating for his tacos and later additions of burritos, tostadas, frijoles and chili burgers.
PepsiCo purchased Taco Bell from Mr. Bell in 1978 for $125 million, and eventually spun off its restaurants into Tricon Global Restaurants Inc. Tricon also encompasses Pizza Hut and KFC.
"I'm an entrepreneur, not an administrator," he said. "Taco Bell prospered because I recognized my limitations, hired professional managers to make up for them, and knew when to let go."
Glen William Bell Jr. was born Sept. 3, 1923, in Lynwood, Calif., south of downtown Los Angeles, to an often out-of-work construction worker father and resourceful mother faring worse financially than their own parents. Mr. Bell grew up selling produce to help the struggling family.
After high school graduation in 1941, he worked for the U.S. Forestry Service and for the military near Barstow, Calif., before joining the Marines. Mr. Bell's wartime service - as a waiter serving top military brass in the South Pacific - taught him how to balance the amount of food needed by specific numbers of diners, and the importance of clean and prompt service.
At war's end, he returned to San Bernardino and worked in a brickyard and the railroad yard before founding Bell's Hamburgers and Hot Dogs in 1948, which he later sold to in-laws.
He also built a second hamburger stand in San Bernardino. When he developed and sold that first 19-cent taco at that location, Mr. Bell separated himself from the competitors he so admired, Mac and Dick McDonald. He had found his profitable niche.
But Mr. Bell's success, built through long work days, destroyed his six-year marriage to Dorothy Taylor, the mother of his oldest son, Rex. They divorced in 1953.
When the first Taco Bell in Florida opened Nov. 29, 1967, tacos were so unfamiliar to residents that Mr. Bell had to run advertisements, defining and picturing the menu items, listing ingredients and showing how to pronounce them.
The company was so financially successful by 1969 that Mr. Bell made his first public stock offering. He remained the major stockholder and personally pocketed $1 million from the sale. By 1975, Mr. Bell resigned as chairman of the board and sold stock valued at $5.85 million. The PepsiCo stock he received in 1978 was valued at $32 million.
Mr. Bell remained a lifelong Taco Bell consultant and booster.
Mr. Bell is survived by his wife, Martha, three sisters, two sons and four grandchildren, according to the Associated Press.