Ever since its founding in 1962, Taco Bell has been serving up Mexican American-style food - like the Enchirito and the Doritos Locos Taco - and making it available to everyone. But parts of Taco Bell's history are decidedly less savory than its signature Burrito Supreme, such as its troubling origin story and questions over the quality of its products.
Still, these controversies haven't been enough to faze Taco Bell's loyal fan base, which the quick-service chain has expanded through creative - and sometimes ill-advised - advertising campaigns.
Love it or loathe it, Taco Bell has repeatedly shaken up its menu and messaging - and changed how we eat fast food.
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Taco Bell Once Took A Swipe At McDonald's By Featuring Real-Life Men Named Ronald McDonald In An Ad
McDonald's has traditionally been the king of the quick-service breakfast market. In 2014, Taco Bell devised an ad campaign for its own breakfast foods that called to mind the rival company's clown mascot, Ronald McDonald.
Advertisers recruited 25 men named Ronald McDonald from across the country and put them in a commercial to advertise Taco Bell's new line of breakfast items. Together, all Ronalds were instructed to say, "I'm Ronald McDonald and I love Taco Bell's new breakfast."
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NASA Took A Close Look At Taco Bell's Tortillas For Space Missions
NASA astronauts typically stay in space for several months and have to bring their meals with them. This means perishable foods - like fresh milk - don't have a place on spaceships.
Another kind of food is largely verboten: baked goods. Breads, cookies, muffins, and the like get crumbly, and their crumbs could get caught in NASA equipment and potentially make things go haywire.
Crumb-free bread, however, is good to go, so NASA explored tortillas as a suitable replacement for fresh bread. The challenge, however, was finding a shelf-stable tortilla whose taste could hold up for months.
NASA even specifically tested out Taco Bell's tortillas, according to Charles T. Bourland and Gregory L. Vogt in The Astronaut's Cookbook:
NASA made extended shelf life tortillas for several years. One of the drawbacks... was that they became bitter tasting after six months in storage. When Taco Bell came out with the extended shelf life tortilla in the late 1990s, NASA tested them. They found that the Taco Bell tortillas would store for 12 months without any bitter flavor development. NASA began using the Taco Bell tortillas for extended duration missions...
- Photo: Taco Bell / Used with permission3384 VOTES
The 'Bell' In Taco Bell Refers To Founder Glen Bell
Have you ever wondered why it's called Taco Bell? Though the restaurant features a bell of the tolling kind on its logo, the chain is named after founder Glen Bell.
In 1946, California native and WWII veteran Glen Bell (pictured) first got into the food business when he started a hot dog stand in San Bernardino, CA. Bell transitioned to selling tacos in 1952. Ten years later, he opened Taco Bell in nearby Downey.
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Taco Bell Spent Years Perfecting The Beloved Doritos Locos Taco
Creating a taco shell out of Doritos tortilla chips was a revolutionary idea in 2009.
Recognizing the potential value, Taco Bell invested heavily in developing the product. Developers had a lot of issues to iron out, such as how to translate chips into a large taco shell and perfect the taste. As CEO Greg Creed explained to Fast Company:
A Doritos chip is a flat triangle, and it gets seasoned by being tumbled around in a huge seasoner barrel that rotates. But we couldn't do that with a taco shell because they would break. We could get the seasoning to stick to the top, but we couldn't get it to stick to the bottom - we just couldn't get it evenly coated. You don't want to take one big bite at one end, and it has flavor and the other end has nothing. We had to make sure it was evenly distributed.
Taco Bell tinkered with 40 different versions of the Doritos taco shell before landing on the winning recipe. It was wildly successful. Only 14 months after the Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Taco was released in 2012, the fast food chain had sold half a billion of them.
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When Taco Bell Cut Back The Sodium Content Of Some Menu Items, Customers Couldn't Taste The Difference
A restaurant that is known for its salty meat-and-cheese offerings probably isn't an obvious destination for people seeking low-sodium meals. Nonetheless, Taco Bell has made strides in improving its sodium count.
The restaurant hasn't always broadcast its moves, however. In 2010, Taco Bell quietly rolled back sodium in its menu items. According to a statement by Taco Bell's then-president Greg Creed, the chain reduced sodium by 23%:
The first place we actually tested this is in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. So 150 restaurants over the last few months have been eating great-tasting Taco Bell food with 23% less sodium. And the great news is: No one even knows we've done it. That's when you know you're been successful.
Taco Bell continues to offer lower-sodium options for consumers. As CNN reported, the restaurant's "Fresco tacos have fewer than 500 milligrams of sodium."
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Taco Bell Recruited Johnny Cash For A Commercial
In the 1990s, Johnny Cash took on an unexpected role: salesman for Taco Bell. The company featured the musician in a commercial about its value menu in 1992, making good use of his bankable name with the line, "Where else can you get so many choices for just a little cash?"
It wasn't the first time the Man in Black joined an advertising campaign. In 1972, Cash appeared in a commercial for Amoco.