Taco Bell Corp., a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc., is a restaurant chain based in Irvine, California specializing in Tex-Mex-inspired fast food. Most restaurants are located in North America, but there are also many in other countries. The menu focuses on taco and burrito variations, but many other selections are offered.
After experimenting with alternative food items, Glen Bell opened three Taco-Tia stands in 1954 and 1955, which he later sold to his partners. He then opened the first Taco Bell in Downey, California on March 21, 1962.
The first Taco Bell franchise was sold in 1964 and the company became public in 1969. In 1978, the chain was sold to PepsiCowith Owner Mary Pierson. The chain was spun off along with Pepsi's other fast food restaurant holdings as Tricon Global Restaurants in October 1997. Tricon became Yum! Brands in May 2002.
Smaller Taco Bell outlets, offering a reduced version of the menu, appear in malls, airport terminals, university and military base dining halls, department stores, hotels, gas stations, and other locations. Some school lunch programs also offer Taco Bell items under the Taco Bell Express branding.
The Taco Bell name is also used under license by Kraft Foods, which offers a line of taco shells, spices, salsa, and other Mexican foods (including full meal kits) featuring the Taco Bell Home Originals name in supermarkets nationwide.
As of 2005, there are 5,845 Taco Bell restaurants in the United States, including 1,252 company-owned locations, 3,803 franchisees, and 790 licenses. There is a 3% drop in branches compared with 2001. Internationally there are 243 locations, 201 franchisees and 42 licensees, which adds up to growth of 2% since 2001.
50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, filed a federal lawsuit against Taco Bell on July 23, 2008. The suit claims that his name was used in a print ad asking him to change his name to 79 Cent, 89 Cent or 99 Cent as a part of the "Why Pay More?" campaign. 50 Cent was not aware of the ad until it came out, while fake letters containing the name change request were sent to the news media for promotional purposes. He is seeking $4 million in damages.
Taco Bell's dessert options include the Caramel Apple Empanada and Cinnamon Twists. Sides include nachos, pintos and cheese, and a cup of rice which used to come with a double portion of rice, red sauce, cheese, and formerly green onion, though this ingredient is no longer carried after an E. coli scare. As of 2008, Taco Bell has removed the red sauce and cheese from the sides of rice.
Despite Taco Bell's inexpensive prices, its least expensive menus did not appear until the mid-2000s. The introduction of the value menu also brought new items to the restaurant's offerings, notably items made with potatoes and Taco Bell's third dessert, the Caramel Apple Empanada. (Cinnamon Crispas, triangular fried flour tortilla shells, were offered until being replaced by Cinnamon Twists.) The Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito recently replaced the Bean Burrito Especial, which was removed because of its small profit margin. However, the Bean Burrito Especial is still on The Big Bell Value Menu in some markets in the western markets in addition to the Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito. Also of note is that half of the menu is not truly new, as Beef Combo Burritos, Cheesy Bean and Rice Burritos, Double Decker Tacos, and both Spicy Chicken items had been on the regular menu before, as permanent or limited time only items.
The Big Bell Value Menu usually includes:
The menu is:
In May 2008, a frozen drink called Frutista Freeze debuted. The two flavors are Mango Strawberry and Strawberry: both topped with strawberries.
Launched with broadcast TV advertising in April 2008 featuring comedic radio personality Adam Carolla who prompts viewers to "eat like a man" and that they "deserve a meal made for men."
In 1991, Taco Bell launched a Fiesta menu which had smaller sized versions of four their popular menu items: the taco, soft taco, bean burrito and tostada. Each item was approximately 40% smaller than the normal versions and cost $.39 each.
In the early-1990s, Taco Bell changed its menu due to pressure concerning the nutritional value of items labeled "Lite". It was believed the term was vague or possibly deceptive. Many items were dropped entirely from the menu, such as the "Taco Lite", a fried flour tortilla shell with lean beef, fat free sour cream, lettuce, reduced fat cheese, and tomatoes. Some items were altered to change the nutritional values, such as the removal of olives from the list of ingredients, in an effort to reduce sodium.
In early 1994, Taco Bell transformed the familiar rainbow logo, in favor of a simpler pink/purple combo logo in an effort to revitalize their almost 20 year old logo. This was done after a movie placement tie-in with Demolition Man. In the sci-fi story Taco Bell is the only remaining restaurant chain in the world. The Taco Bell is portrayed in the futuristic purple and pink design.
This has greatly reduced the levels of trans fats in most Taco Bell menu items, but they are still not completely free of trans fats.
In 2003, Taco Bell launched the "fresco style" menu. By ordering something fresco style, the item's cheese and/or sauce is replaced by the chain's fiesta salsa. Using this option cuts the fat in the product in half in some cases.
In January 2008, Taco Bell launched a Fresco menu. It has items with less than 9 fat grams and a freshly prepared Fiesta Salsa. The Fiesta Salsa is a zesty mix of diced tomatoes, white onions and cilantro that replaces the cheese, sour cream, and sauce (with exception to red sauce and green sauce) and adds only five calories per serving and no fat.
The Fresco Menu includes the following items:
On April 1, 1996, Taco Bell took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell to "reduce the country's debt" and renamed it to "the Taco Liberty Bell." Thousands of people who did not immediately understand the press release as an April Fool's Day hoax protested.
In March 2001, Taco Bell announced a promotion to coincide with the re-entry of the Mir space station. They towed a large target out into the Pacific Ocean, announcing that if the target was hit by a falling piece of Mir, every person in the United States would be entitled to a free Taco Bell taco. The company bought a sizable insurance policy for this gamble. No piece of the station struck the target.
In 2003, Costa Rican Taco Bell franchises temporarily marketed their tacos as "Tacos ticos", because for Costa Ricans, the word "taco" refers to what is known in Mexico as a flauta. ("Tico" is a colloquial term for natives of Costa Rica.)
In the summer of 2004, PepsiCo and Taco Bell introduced Mountain Dew Baja Blast. The tropical-lime flavored drink is exclusive to Taco Bell stores. Along with this, Taco Bell introduced its Mountain Dew "Viva Variety!" promotional campaign, where the advertising on the soft drink fountain shows three cups of Mountain Dew—one regular, one Code Red and one Baja Blast.
In 2007 Taco Bell offered the "Steal a Base, Steal a Taco" promotion—if any player from either team stole a base in the 2007 World Series the company would give away free tacos to everyone in America in a campaign similar to the Mir promotion. After Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox stole a base, the company paid out this promotion on October 30, 2007.
Added to the official menu in early 2007, the Grilled Taquito is Taco Bell's latest permanent product. Some of their most recent "limited time only" items have included the Ultimate Chalupa (chalupa with chicken or steak, sour cream, lettuce, guacamole, three-cheese blend, and fiesta salsa), and the Nacho Crunch Grilled Stuft Burrito.
A commercial in May 2008 features two men at the speaker in the Taco Bell drive-thru, for the 89-cent burrito promo. They start rapping about the burrito to an employee named Stephanie. In response to the popular commercial, some people actually went to Taco Bells and did the rap.
Taco Bell sponsors a promotion at home games for both the Portland Trail Blazers and the Cleveland Cavaliers in which, if the home team scores 100 points or more, everyone in attendance receives a coupon for a free Chalupa. This tradition started sometime around 1999.
In September 1997, the Taco Bell chihuahua was introduced. He spoke the line in commercials for their wildly popular "Yo quiero Taco Bell" campaign. In the Spanish language, yo quiero means I want . The little dog's real name was "Gidget", but that was never publicized in the ad campaign. The character was voiced by comedian, and cartoon voice-over artist, Carlos Alazraqui of Reno 911! and Rocko's Modern Life. By 1998, the Taco Bell chihuahua was known as the biggest commercial star on the planet, but his popularity dropped significantly by 2000. As of the early-2000s, Taco Bell has gone away from the chihuahua and instead has promoted its value menu through "I'm Full!!" commercials and used "Think outside the bun" as its slogan. Gidget did, however, make a cameo in a 2002 Geico commercial where he met Geico's spokes-gecko. That commercial continued to air through 2004.
In the early 2000s, Taco Bell's hot sauce packets (Mild, Hot, and Fire) got a major makeover. The restaurant decided to implement a scheme that would make the condiments a conversation piece; quotes change regularly, and Taco Bell has created a contest to have patrons enter their ideas.
Taco Bell returned to Australia in late 1998, this time under Taco Bell branding, and opened a handful of stores in Sydney, many of which were multi-store restaurants formally standalone KFC or Pizza Hut locations. The venture only had moderate success, and eventually some standalone Taco Bell restaurants were 'split' to offer KFC as well. The Taco Bell dog was used in commercials with promotions such as 99 cent tacos used to encourage customers to try the chain. However, Sydneysiders never really warmed to the concept of Mexican fast food and Taco Bell closed its last outlet in December 2003. Former Taco Bell sites were rebranded as KFC or Pizza Hut.China In 2003, Yum! Brands introduced the Taco Bell brand into People's Republic of China. The Chinese Taco Bell restaurants are not fast-food restaurants like other Taco Bells. Instead, they are full-service restaurants called Taco Bell Grande that are more analogous to a Mexican grill in the United States. In addition to the usual taco and burritos, Taco Bell Grande also serves other Mexican cuisine like albóndigas (meatball soup), tomatillo grilled chicken, fajitas, and alcoholic drinks such as Margaritas. Currently the chain has three restaurants in China, two in Shenzhen and one in Shanghai.Canada In Canada, Taco Bell locations are quite common. The menu varies only slightly from the American counterpart. Most notably, Canadian locations sell French fries. The Fries Supreme, French fries topped with ground beef, cheese, sour cream, and green onions is one of the more popular side-orders.United Kingdom Currently, there are only two Taco Bell locations in England, both operated by AAFES on air bases RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath. They are not accessible to the general public and are in place for the benefit of the USAFE.
The United Kingdom was the first European country with a Taco Bell. In 1986 a location was opened in London on Coventry Street (between Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus) followed by a second location in Earls Court near the Earl's Court tube station. One other store opened in Uxbridge but all closed in the mid 1990s. Today the Coventry Street site is occupied by a branch of the sit-down restaurant chain TGI Friday's. In 1994 the university food provider Compass New Famous Foods announced plans to open stores in its university and college sites. However only one store was opened in Birmingham University, no other stores were opened and the Birmingham site is now closed. There has been speculation that Taco Bell could return to the UK because of the success of supermarket brands like Old El Paso, growing tourism travel to Mexico and Florida and popular American TV shows which promote Mexican food.Germany Currently, there are no public Taco Bell locations in major German cities. AAFES does operate several locations at major US bases in southern Germany. These secure locations are located at: Ramstein Air Base near Kaiserslautern, Mannheim Gartenstadt, Heidelberg Shopping Center, Schweinfurt Ledward Barracks, Grafenwöhr PX Complex/Shopping Center, Baumholder and Wiesbaden Hainerberg. After 9/11, access for non-military customers was severely restricted.Iceland Iceland is currently the only country in Europe to have a publicly accessible Taco Bell. It is operated as a part of the KFC establishment in Hafnarfjörður, suburb of Reykjavík. It was established in late 2006, after the departure of US Navy from Naval Air Station Keflavik.Japan Taco Bell is located on most Joint Japan/US Naval Bases like NAF Atsugi, U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo, and Yokosuka Naval Base. On Okinawa alone, there are 4 Taco Bell locations. One is at Kadena Air Base with the US Air Force. The remaining three are located with the US Marine Corps at Camp Foster, Camp Schwab, and Camp Hansen. Taco Bell Express, a smaller food-court variant, is also found at Misawa Air Base and Yokota Air Base. As with the other international locations on Military bases, access to the general public is restricted. Only Military personnel, dependents, and Contract personnel both DoD and Civilian and their authorized guests have access to them.Mexico After a failed attempt to enter the market in 1992 that finished with all the restaurants closing 2 years later, in September 2007 Taco Bell returned to the country. The first restaurant in the northern city of Monterrey is part of a plan to open between 8 and 10 more locations in 2008 and eventually reach 300 stores.Philippines In 2004, Taco Bell opened three restaurants in Manila, Philippines. Subsequently, a fourth store was added. The Philippines hosts the most Taco Bell locations outside North America, excluding those which belong to overseas US Military-leased lands.Singapore Currently there are a few KFC outlets in Singapore that also sell Taco Bell meals. An example is the Hougang KFC Taco Bell outlet in Heartland Mall, Hougang South, beside Kovan MRT Station along Upper Serangoon Road. There is also the new 3-in-1 freedom of choice outlets, serving Pizza Hut/Taco Bell/KFC such as the branch in Funan DigitaLife Mall on North Bridge Road. However there are no restaurants selling only Taco Bell merchandise.South Korea There is a Taco Bell located on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul, Korea for use of on-base personnel. There is also a Taco Bell on Kunsan Air Base. Spain There is a Taco Bell/KFC outlet located on Naval Station Rota for use of personnel with authorization to be on-base. This is the only Taco Bell located in the Iberian Peninsula.
In November 2006, Taco Bell made local headlines when 22 customers were sickened by the E. Coli bacteria. The bacteria was traced to three New Jersey restaurants. While some people were hospitalized, none were severely harmed.
In 2007, Taco Bell again made headlines in the New York Metro Area when a Taco Bell/KFC restaurant in Manhattan was overrun by rats; footage of the rodents scurrying about were shown on local news. The location was closed by order of the Department of Health.