Glen W. Bell, Jr., 86, founder of the Taco Bell restaurant chain, passed away yesterday evening in his home in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Bell was born September 3, 1923, in Lynwood, California. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Martha (“Marty”); three sisters, Delores, Dorothy, and Maureen; daughter Kathleen; two sons, Gary and Rex; and four grandchildren, Brandon, Jordan, Valerie, and Christopher. Private funeral services are being planned for family members.

Bell is best known for founding Taco Bell. His leadership philosophy and customer focus inspired a culture of innovation that lives on today and positions the brand for a bright future. Today Taco Bell serves more than 36.8 million consumers each week in more than 5,600 restaurants in the U.S. More than 2 billion tacos and 1 billion burritos are served throughout the U.S. each year.

“The entire Taco Bell family of franchisees and employees are deeply saddened by the loss of the founder of Taco Bell. Glen Bell was a visionary and innovator in the restaurant industry, as well as a dedicated family man,” says Greg Creed, president and chief concept officer of Taco Bell. “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.”

Bell’s first venture in the restaurant business was in 1948, when he opened Bell’s Drive-In in San Bernardino, California. Bell founded his restaurant after he and his San Bernardino High School classmate Neal Baker, who also started his own restaurant, Baker’s, had closely studied the success of the McDonald’s brothers and their namesake burger establishments first founded in San Bernardino. 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 to its customers. However, Bell soon decided to differentiate his menu by adding Mexican fare. He quickly realized the need to develop a convenient way to serve items such as tacos in a take-out environment. He also began experimenting with a drive-thru concept. 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 and 1955, Bell and a fellow 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 into Los Angeles, 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 share of the business to his partners 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. Later, Galardi went on to build Der Wienerschnitzel into a chain of his own. Another employee, Ed Hackbarth, also left to open his own drive-in, a chain that would become Del Taco.

Taco Bell became a reality in 1962 when Glen Bell opened his first restaurant in Downey, California. He followed with eight small Taco Bell units in the Long Beach, Paramount, and Los Angeles areas. From there, he expanded his restaurant chain and sold the first Taco Bell franchise in 1964. In 1978, Bell sold his 868 Taco Bell restaurants to PepsiCo. Taco Bell is now owned by Yum! Brands Inc.

A World War II veteran, Bell 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 to California. After selling Taco Bell to PepsiCo in 1978, he made his full-time home in Rancho Santa Fe, California. About that same time he became enthralled by Valley Center, a farming community in San Diego County that reminded him of the San Bernardino of his youth.

There he eventually built Bell Gardens, 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. He was also a fervent supporter of 4-H.

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