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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

Feliz Cumpleanos, Taco Bell!

Taco Bell is 60 years old today and it looks pretty good for its age.

An incalculable number of Mexican restaurants and fast-food taco stands have come and gone since 1962 when founder Glen Bell opened his first Taco Bell in Downey, California.

But Bell’s story began with a hot dog stand called Bell’s Drive-In that he opened in San Bernardino, California in 1946 when he was just 23. Then, four years later he opened a hamburger stand called Bell’s Hamburgers and Hot Dogs in a Latino neighborhood in San Bernardino, but he enviously 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 while attempting to reverse-engineer the hard-shell taco recipe. Eventually, he became such good friends with the owners that they showed him how they were made and by early 1952, he had opened a taco stand of his own, which he called Taco-Tia.

The restaurant was a hit and Bell began buying up more local taco stands, including four locations operating under the name 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.

Bell designed the iconic Taco Bell logo and later adopted the familiar open air adobe design for most of its restaurants, a design that has been largely abandoned. Early marketing relied heavily on the Mexican origins of the brand concept, but certain elements proved troublesome, particularly as the Mexican-American population grew. Even the Hungry Taco Bell chihuahua and the “Run for the Border” ad campaigns, while extremely successful, were scrapped in favor of more mainstream marketing concepts.

WHY IT MATTERS. Over the last 60 years, Taco Bell has become so successful that it is hard to imagine a fast-food landscape without it. In fact, Taco Bell operates almost 7500 restaurants in 30 countries and serves more than two billion tacos and more than a million burritos each year. The logo has changed, the menu has changed, and the prices have certainly changed, but the one thing that has remained a constant is the strength of the brand.

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