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Robert McKay dies; Taco Bell designer, ex-president was 86

Robert McKay in 2011. The designer of the

Robert McKay in 2011. The designer of the first Taco Bell restaurant, who with founder Glen Bell turned it into a fast-food empire, died at 86. Credit: McKay family via AP

TUSTIN, Calif. — Robert L. McKay, who designed the first Taco Bell restaurant and with founder Glen Bell turned it from a quirky food stand into a fast-food empire, has died.

McKay, 86, died last week from cancer in Orange County, California, said his son Rob McKay.

Bell opened his first Taco Bell in Downey, California, in 1962, selling hard-shell tacos and other Mexican-inspired fast food. McKay, an architect, designed the Spanish-style arched and tiled building that became the chain’s signature look.

Intrigued by the fast-food concept, McKay closed his architectural firm and joined Taco Bell, eventually becoming president.

He helped familiarize American consumers with then-exotic Mexican dishes like tacos and burritos by introducing menus with phonetic pronunciations of food items and descriptions of each product’s ingredients.

McKay embraced the concept of franchising, which led to rapid expansion of the company.

Taco Bell had about 900 restaurants when it was sold to PepsiCo in 1978 for $125 million in stock.

“Still today, Taco Bell’s architecture of the 60’s and 70’s remains as one of the most recognizable and iconic designs of the era,” Taco Bell said in a statement Friday. “Not only did McKay play a significant role in the exterior look and feel of Taco Bell, his work as a close friend to Glen and eventual company president helped drive much of the growth and success of the global brand we know today.”

After retiring from Taco Bell in the early 1980s, McKay went on to finance other businesses that invested in technology, consumer products, real estate and banking, his family said.

McKay is survived by his wife, Meagan; his sons, Rob and John; and five grandchildren.

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