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Taco Bell founder Glen W. Bell Jr. dies at 86

RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. - Glen W. Bell Jr., an entrepreneur best known as the founder of the Taco Bell chain, has died. He was 86.

Bell died Sunday at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, according to a statement posted Monday on the Taco Bell Web site.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company did not release a cause of death.

"Glen Bell was a visionary and innovator in the restaurant industry, as well as a dedicated family man," Greg Creed, president of Taco Bell, said in the statement.

Bell launched his first restaurant, called Bell's Drive-In, in 1948 in San Bernardino after seeing the success of McDonald's. His restaurant sought to take advantage of Southern California's car culture by serving hamburgers and hot dogs through drive-in windows.

The World War II veteran next helped establish Taco Tias in Los Angeles, El Tacos in the Long Beach area and Der Wienerschnitzel, a national hot dog chain.

Bell launched Taco Bell in 1962 in Downey, Calif., after cutting ties with his business partners and quickly expanding around Los Angeles.

He sold the first Taco Bell franchise in 1964. In 1978, Bell sold his 868 Taco Bell restaurants to PepsiCo for $125 million in stock.

About that same time, according to Businesswire, he became enthralled by Valley Center, a farming community in San Diego County that reminded him of the San Bernardino of his youth.

There he eventually built Bell Gardens, a 115-acre model produce farm and landscaped park that he opened to the public. Bell Gardens provided educational programs that stressed the importance of agriculture and how to preserve our natural resources.

In 2008, Nation's Restaurant News named Glen Bell as the recipient of its Pioneer Award. As one of the most prestigious awards in the food industry, Bell was recognized for his dedication and contributions to the restaurant industry, Businesswire said.

Taco Bell is now owned by Yum! Brands and is the largest Mexican fast-food chain in the nation, serving more than 36.8 million consumers each week in more than 5,600 U.S. locations.

Bell is survived by his wife, Martha, three sisters, two sons, a daughter and four grandchildren.

A private funeral is planned.

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