The Spicy History of Taco Bell

Tom Blank of Weird History Food looks at the long, spicy history of the fast food giant Taco Bell, noting how the chain got its name, its early days in Southern California, and its eventual sale to PepsiCo.

Since 1962, the franchise has been serving up Mexican-American cuisine at prices that have totally changed the way Americans think about fast food. …we’re going to take a look at the spicy, gassy history of Taco Bell.

Blank also talks about some of the successful advertising decisions that were made over the years.

But it wasn’t until 1989, when Taco Bel joined in the promotional campaign for Tim Burton’s “Batman”, that the fast food business truly realized how lucrative such a tie-in could be. That summer, Taco Bell locations were decorated with cardboard cutouts of Michael Keaton’s DarkKnight. …The effort was so successful it smashed Taco Bell’s records for promotional tie-ins. One location even claimed their sales increased by 25% during the course of the promotion.

Of course, some decisions were less than successful.

For example, in 1996, the company decided to lean into the fun of April Fool’s Day by announcing it had bought the Liberty Bell from the city of Philadelphia.… Many folks were fooled by the gag, and not in a good way. The National Park Service was bombarded with angry phone calls complaining about the sale of an important historic object to a fast food chain. Taco Bell was forced to bail on the joke after just a few hours.

While others were just in bad taste.

Then there was the time in 2001 that the Mir Space Station was brought out of orbit so it could return to Earth’s atmosphere. Scientists anticipated the parts of the station would burn on re-entry, while the rest would fall into the Pacific Ocean. For some reason, Taco Bell decided this was an irresistible promotional opportunity and constructed a giant target in the South Pacific just off the coast of Australia. The company then announced that if any pieces of the space station hit the 40 by 40 foot target, Taco Bell would give every American a free taco.

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