Taco Bell in the 1960s, 1970s & 1980s: See their old restaurants, and what the Mexican fast-food chain used to serve

First Taco Bell store

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This popular Mexican-ish fast food chain started small in the 1950s, but grew the business big — all while keeping the menu small. Look back at vintage Taco Bell restaurants and their most popular food here!

Taco Bell history: Chain has 55 drive-ins with $8 million in sales (1966)

by A V Gullette, Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ) July 3, 1966

If you tried to pick five 19-cent food items that would total $12,000 a month in sales, what would you choose?

At Barstow, Calif., Glenn W. Bell Jr. picked: Tacos, chiliburgers, tostados, frijoles and chili burros.

Out of those five Mexican dishes, plus soft drinks, coffee and milk to go with them, he’s put together his Taco Bell franchises for a restaurant chain in California.

Vintage Taco Bell tacos in 1981

And the 55 drive-ins that now extend to Arizona and soon to Texas average $12,000 a month from those five items. That’s a grand total of nearly $8 million a year — in the vicinity of 40 million 19-cent orders.

“Most people don’t realize the amount of business we do,” said Robert A. Campbell, regional director who has headquarters at Scottsdale. “We’re geared for volume.” The profit margin is small, and it’s in the management of those who buy franchises for the drive-ins.

“Most of the people who buy the franchises never have been in business before,” Campbell said. “We even had to teach some to operate a cash register, and one of them how to make out a bank deposit slip.”

The deposit incident happened after the opening of what is the chain’s largest volume drive-in.

“We dropped in to see how things had wound up [after] the grand opening,” Bell recalled. “There was the manager with $1 bills heaped in a huge stack on a table.”

We asked what he was going to do with the tableful of money. For an answer, he hoisted up a suitcase and began stuffing the bills into it. He would take it home, he said, and a couple of his police buddies would provide a safe escort.

It took considerable persuasion to get the manager to use a night bank depository, because he first had to learn how to make out a deposit slip.

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Vintage Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1979 (3)

Taco Bell just getting started in Arizona (1966)

Bell started his specialized Mexican food drive-in at Barstow [California] in 1962.

The first one was opened by Campbell in Arizona last February. Next week, the 10th of 20 stands in the Valley will be opened. There will be 31 in Arizona by the end of the year, Campbell said.

ALSO SEE: Remember when Mexican food seemed new and exciting & we thought Chi Chi’s was the real deal?

Soon he will be opening the first of 50 stands scheduled this year in Texas and New Mexico. A total of 200 is planned in these states. Franchises have been sold eastward to the Atlantic Coast.

Vintage Taco Bell album - Tijuana Taxi

Taco Bell, Inc, provides the owners of franchised drive-ins with aid in business management and in construction, equipment, and opening of the facility. Through supervision of ingredients and recipes, the firm aims to keep the public image of Taco Bell at uniform excellence.

Tortillas, which first were produced at the stand, now are obtained uncooked, of course, from local tortilla makers, who use Taco Bell’s recipe. The hot sauce is Taco Bell’s own.

To assure uniformity, it is canned for Taco Bell at Oriental Canning in California. Chili that goes into it comes from a Tucson firm that imports the fresh pods from Mexico.

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Vintage Taco Bell sign from 1972 - Click Americana
Vintage 1970s Taco Bell sign from 1972

Campbell said that Taco Bell drive-ins have spurred demand for Mexican foods in stores. 

Rosarita Mexican Foods Company in Mesa [Arizona], has found, for example, he said, that its sales go up in the vicinity of Taco Bell drive-ins. The Rosarita company is planning a move into the Pacific Northwest along with Taco Bell expansion there.

People eating at a vintage Taco Bell from 1972 - Click Americana

Campbell said that economy and convenience are responsible for the fast growth of chains in the small eatery field. The chains have developed a better product, he said, and a method to upgrade appearance and handling and speed. 

“People are in a hurry,” he said, “and they can slip in and get a bit to eat and leave.

Vintage Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1979 (1)

“The average Taco Bell customer is 23. The bulk are young families. If they went to a regular restaurant, the bill would be several dollars. But at Taco Bell, they can get something to eat for the whole family for $2.”

The mom-and-pop eateries, he said, have disappeared because the successful ones have grown larger and expanded into chains. The others have quit.

But for those who can do mass merchandising, the road leads to the bank — even if you have to be taught how to use a deposit slip instead of a suitcase to take care of a tableful of $1 bills.

Fast food places and other restaurants from the 1970s

Vintage Taco Bell food & packaging

Vintage Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1979 (2)

The old dining-in experience, 1980

Vintage Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1980

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Preparing food for customers in a Taco Bell kitchen

Vintage Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1981 (1)

Old Taco Bell menu board from 1981

Vintage Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1981 (5)

The very first Taco Bell restaurant

First Taco Bell store

Building a Taco Bell in 1981

Vintage Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1981 (3)

Food testing and prep in 1981

Vintage Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1981 (4)

1980s Taco Bell with old logo (1983)

Vintage Taco Bell restaurant in 1983

Cute little kid with a retro-style Taco Bell bag (1986)

Vintage Taco Bell - 1986

Vintage Taco Bell fast food restaurants in 1997

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. Such a pity they modernize the look of the store so much it no longer looks anything like the original ones! Wish they’d bring it back…

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