An Easily Digestible Timeline Of Taco Bell's Rise To Power
In the world of fast food, there’s not many chains that inspire such a love-hate relationship with diners as late-night stoner stalwart, Taco Bell. Some fast food chains inspire devotion and loyalty through a dedication to high-quality ingredients and consistent great taste. That is not how Taco Bell operates, yet I, and many others, hold a deep love for it nonetheless. There aren’t many chains that have sent me to the porcelain throne in a cold sweat more frequently, yet I still consider a trip every time I spot one of the titular pink and purple bells.
Perhaps it’s because Taco Bell taps into the human condition more deeply than other fast food chains. There’s no pretending, no airs of grandeur. As Chipotle trumpets about the quality of their meat, and runs commercials showing employees of the month talking about how much care they put into each burrito, Taco Bell is laughing in the back of the classroom. They know the same thing we all do: inside of each of us there is an uncivilized goblin, fighting for control and craving the type of “beef” that’s spoken in the form of a question. Other brands fight to be the food you set out for a dinner party, while Taco Bell is the meal you eat alone over the sink. The world needs both.
It’s a market they’ve cornered for a long time. Let’s take a look at how it evolved.
Bell, No Tacos
It all starts with a man named Glen Bell, whose last name he would lend to his future fast food empire. However, his forays into the food industry started entirely tacoless. The aspiring restaurateur was a regular at a place called Mitla Cafe, and a huge fan of their crunchy tacos. Meanwhile, he had launched a restaurant known as Bell’s Drive-In, which did offer his version of the taco, but only as a menu item and not as a gospel.
The First Taco Bell
Inspired by the success of the tacos at his broader drive-in, Glen decided to open a separate restaurant that was all-in on the crunchy tex-mex items. The first Taco Bell would open in 1962 in Downey, California, and it would experience quick success.
A Dynasty Is Born
Perhaps thanks to a combination of an untapped market and a founder who already had know-how and experience in the industry, Taco Bell took off remarkably quickly. Only 2 years after its initial location opened its doors, it would have its first franchise location. A man named Kermit Becky would become the first ever Taco Bell franchisee with a location in Torrance, California.
0-100 Real Quick
The restaurant business is a tough one. Or at least, that’s the conventional wisdom. For Glen Bell and his foray into the taco trade, there were little to no growing pains whatsoever, despite the kind of growth spurt that would have a teenager’s shins spread hair-thin. Only 3 years after their first franchise location had opened, the 100th Taco Bell opened in Anaheim, California. I don’t think I could even find 100 suitable locations in 3 years, much less get them up and running.
Publicly Traded Tacos
The silver taco shell that Taco Bell seemed to be born with in-mouth didn’t fail, as the business continued its skyward ascent, becoming a publicly traded company in 1970, less than 10 years after its inception. Buying stock in Taco Bell in the marijuana-scented 70s is something I’ve now added to my time-machine shortlist.
PepsiCo Ponies Up
It didn’t take long for diabetes superpower PepsiCo to take notice of the fast-growing chain, and they decided, like a stoned man on the way to their subway, that it was something they needed immediately. The Pepsi (and more importantly, Mountain Dew) owner acquired Taco Bell in 1978, setting in motion the seeds of a carbonated crossover that would change lives decades later.
Ciao, Amigo: Mexican Pizza
In 1988, Taco Bell would dip their toes into a style of food that would become their calling card for the rest of history with the introduction of the Mexican Pizza. No chain dominates the realm of food that photographs about as well as Bigfoot, but is far tastier than it has any right to be, quite like Taco Bell. The Mexican Pizza was maybe their first smash hit in their now well-plumbed catalog of “foods you create drunk and have to reverse engineer from the crumbs in your bed.”
Fast Food Tacos, Faster
In 1991, they would launch the first Taco Bell Express, smaller restaurants with condensed menus meant to serve people who are in a hurry, but also have time for a long bout of diarrhea.
Un Perro Pequeno
A cultural icon for people of a certain age who treat their bodies like s**t, 1997 would be the debut of the Taco Bell mascot, Gidget the Chihuahua. Him and his clarion call of “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” would become household knowledge. It’s honestly a perfect ad campaign for Taco Bell. You start with an adorable dog, and then you add a simple catchphrase that describes exactly how people feel about Taco Bell: I want it. I cannot explain why, and I know all the fury it will bring down on my digestive system. I will feel worse immediately after finishing. Yet… yo quiero.
Baja Blasts Off
In 2004, a soda would enter civilization that had no right to exist. Mountain Dew is already a strange but delicious soda with a questionable reputation. I love it, but I wouldn’t walk into a job interview drinking one, if that makes sense. Seeing the natural synergistic energy, Taco Bell created a new signature strain of the Dew for their restaurants, called, with a complete absence of meaning, Baja Blast. It was the color of Ninja Turtle piss with a flavor that can’t be described by any sentence outside of “kind of how it looks?” and it would take over the world.
Crunchwrap Supreme Hits The Scene
Perhaps the greatest chimera ever loosed from the Taco Bell labs is the Crunchwrap Supreme. In what basically exists as an item created when the closing shift workers sweep the detritus of the prep station into a tortilla and grill it, the Crunchwrap Supreme again, had no right to become the phenomenon it did. Even the shape is perfect. Walking into a fast food restaurant and getting handed a soft hexagon? You better believe you’re at Taco Bell.
Tacos Gone Loco With Doritos
In 2012, Taco Bell would jump the shark, if the Fonz jumping that shark had actually been cool as hell and then that episode had swept the Emmys. They introduced the Doritos Locos Taco, a crunchy taco that was served in a Doritos shell. The internet public poked fun, and derided the creation, asking “who would eat that.” Yet all the while, we knew deep inside the same thing Taco Bell did: we would eat that. We would eat 3-4 of them at a time. Yet again, Taco Bell had created the food equivalent of a french bulldog: the morals of its existence are questionable, but the joy it brings is undeniable.
Now, it’s our turn to wait with bated breath for the next release from the Taco Bell lab. Taco Bell and Thanos: two inevitable giants in different shades of purple. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to eat a chalupa and take a positively thunderous dookie.