This Week in Business History Episode 12

“You would think that serving food to generals in Guadalcanal wouldn’t have much relevance later on, but it taught me how to estimate how much food was needed. Based on the number of people serve,  that knowledge gave me confidence to start a restaurant.”

-Glen Bell Jr., Founder of Taco Bell

The ‘This Week in Business History’ Series on Supply Chain Now shares some of the most relevant business and global supply chain events from years past. It will shine a light on some of the most significant leaders, companies, innovations, and even lessons learned from our collective business history.

Scott Luton (00:12):

Good morning, Scott Luton here with you on this edition of this week in business history. Welcome to today’s show on this program, which is part of the supply chain. Now family of programming. We take a look back at the upcoming week, and then we share some of the most relevant events and milestones from years past, of course, mostly business focused with a little dab global supply chain. And occasionally we might just throw in a good story outside of our primary realm. So I invite you to join me on this. Look back in history to identify some of the most significant leaders, companies, innovations, and perhaps lessons learned in our collective business journey. Now let’s dive in to this week in business history.

Scott Luton (01:14):

Hello, and thanks for joining us. I’m your host Scott Luton. And today we’re focused on the week of August 31st. Today, we’re going to be sharing the story of a business legend, a global fast food giant that gave consumers at choice other than hamburgers stay tuned. As we’re talking food today here on this week in business history, powered by our team at supply chain. Now, so let’s start with a fast food pioneer Glenn William Bell jr. Was born September 3rd, 1923 in Linwood, California. He was one of six children after moving East to San Bernardino, California. In the 1930s, the bell family fell on hard times like many other families in the United States at that time. In fact, it’s been said that the matriarch of the family, Ruth Johnson bell would make some of the kids’ clothing from old cloth chicken feed sacks, Glen would grow and sell potatoes, apples, strawberries, and other goods to help his family make ends meet as a young man Glenn Bell jr.

Scott Luton (02:25):

Would spend a summer with a great aunt in Washington state. She taught him how to bake Blackberry paws, which he’d in turn sell for her. They made $3,000 as summer, which they split. This is perhaps what developed an entrepreneurial spirit in the young Glenn Bell jr. In 1943, he would join the Marines and serve as a cook. Seeing time in the Pacific theater bill would be quoted in his biography as saying, quote, you would think that serving food to generals in Guadalcanal wouldn’t have much relevance later on, but it taught me how to estimate how much food was needed. Based on the number of people served that knowledge gave me confidence to start a restaurant in quote, and boy, you can move mountains with confidence and build empires, but that experience as a cook in the Marines also gave bill vital experience ordering portioning and cooking food on a grand scale.

Scott Luton (03:24):

Critical lessons learned that would serve him well in the decades to come after the war Glenn Bell Jr’s entrepreneurial spirit would begin to show one of his first ventures involved, a surplus army truck that he’d used a hall, Adobe bricks for construction. After that didn’t take off bell attempted to run a miniature golf course that failed to pay the bills to one growing business right in San Bernardino would catch Bell’s eye brothers, Maurice and Richard McDonald opened the first McDonald’s in 1948 in San Bernardino. It wasn’t efficient and well run business that was designed to produce massive quantities of food at low prices. Glen bell jr. Would study this business model closely. He’d go on to operate a hamburger and hotdog stand. It did okay, but Glen bell jr needed it to do better. As he had a growing family to support, plus bell wanted to stand out more.

Scott Luton (04:23):

He wanted to offer something different than the hamburger, which was quickly becoming the standard fast food fair in the U S at the time. So when he opened his next food, Stan Bell’s hamburgers and hot dogs and San Bernardino bell would have a secret weapon. The taco bell was already a big fan of Mexican food and he loved the traditional soft tortilla tacos that were sold at the time. One problem, they were very time consuming to make. He said, quote, if you wanted a dozen, you were in for a wait. They stuffed them first, quickly fraud them and stuck them together with a toothpick in quilt, the ever innovative Glen bill jr. Had an idea. What if you fried preform shells and offered hard shell tacos, it cut down on the wait time and allow customers to enjoy tacos as fast food fair. The idea gained steam and bill found a chicken coop maker to fashion a wire contraption that would make it easy to fry up a batch of shells to help make it happen.

Scott Luton (05:31):

So that was that the logistics behind making the tacos easier to sell. Well, that was complete, but the big question remained. Would customers buy them? We’ve got supply, got supply down, but what about demand? Bell would price his hard shell tacos at 19 cents a piece, according to his biography written by Deborah Lee Baldwin in 1999, he would remember his first taco customer quote. He was dressed in a suit and as he bit into the taco, the juice ran down his sleeve and dripped on his tie. I thought, Oh, we’ve lost this one. But he came back amazingly enough and said, that was good. Give me another in quote, the tacos would end up selling like hotcakes and they soon out sell Bell’s burgers. Tacos were selling so much that bell and a few partners would open a small chain of stores called taco Tia bell would sell that chain and then open a small chain in 1958 called El taco bell.

Scott Luton (06:39):

And three partners would open a total of four El tacos together. But Glenn Bell jr became frustrated with working within a partnership. He really wanted to be able to call the shots and go after bigger opportunities. In fact, the fast food market had kept a close eye on what Belle had been doing. And some of the bigger players began to also tinker with taco like options on their own menus Bell’s partners at El taco weren’t game for risky it all to go big Glenn Bell jr. Had a big decision to make he and his second wife, Marty thought about all the work that bill was putting into the current business. And they also thought about just how long this window of opportunity would stay open before bigger players took his menu global and beat him to the punch. Thus in 1962, Glenn and Marty made the decision to go for it.

Scott Luton (07:37):

They sold their share of El taco and risked their life savings of $4,000. In addition to another $18,000 that they had borrowed from family and friends to open up, you guessed it taco bell. The first location would open up in Downey, California, a small town located about 13 miles Southeast of Los Angeles, a city considered home of the Apollo space program. And also interestingly enough, the birth place of weird Al Yankovic, the taco bell and Downey, California did a ton of business. Tacos were certainly in demand and Glen bell jr. Would be in good position to reinvest the profits and open a couple more locations without needing partner permission or agreement. He and Marty were calling the shots. They go on to open eight taco bell locations in the first couple of years, but bell wanted more. So he checked in to see again what the McDonald’s was up to by 1964, Ray crock had guided McDonald’s into franchising.

Scott Luton (08:43):

A lot of franchising. In fact, they had built 700 stores in 44 States by 1964, Glenn Bell jr. Decided that taco bell would franchise as well. But how could they pick the right franchisee and just who would be a good fit? Inter one Kermit Becky that’s right Kermit Becky, a world war II pilot, and a 17 year veteran of the Los Angeles police department. Becky would soon become the first taco bell franchisee. In 1965. Becky would end up borrowing $5,000 from the police credit union and combine that with a second mortgage on his own home to make it happen. The first taco bell franchise would open and Torrance California, and it did well. Kermit Becky later said, quote, I owe my business life to Glenn Bell. He created a great affordable market for people to get into. I was a police officer. I was scared to death.

Scott Luton (09:42):

Glen told me, don’t worry. You’re not going to lose. He should be everything. He wasn’t afraid to go back in the kitchen with me and get dirty in quote, in fact, many of Bell’s employees and franchisees would speak highly of his work ethic and pioneering spirit. Dan Jones spent years at taco bell corporate and also is a taco bell franchisee. Joan says quote. He was really concerned about the quality of the food, the customer service and the cleanliness of the restaurants. He was very strict on operations. The franchisees were motivated by that. We knew the standards by which taco bell was supposed to run in quote, Joan says that franchisees would pour tons of hours each week into the restaurant because they love being part of this dynamic robust organization. John Gorman, taco Bell’s first director of operations sites. Bell’s game-changing approach to hiring managers and providing opportunities to all Garvin said that early on taco bell couldn’t find enough good managers.

Scott Luton (10:47):

And they were all men at the time. Gorman says that taco bell was quote the first chain to hire women managers to run the stores. In quote, in 1966, taco bell would open his first franchise outside of California. It was located in Scottsdale Arizona in 1967, Glen bell brought on a president to run taco bell and its new headquarters in Torrance, California. He did that because bell wanted to travel out to the East coast and start setting up taco bells. There. Delegation was a core principle to Glen bell jr years later, he’d remarked, quote, find people who’d know things. You don’t. I’m an entrepreneur, not an administrator taco bell prosper because I recognized my limitations hired professional managers to make up for them and know when to let go in quote. Before the end of 1967, the first taco bell would open in Florida just five years after opening the company’s first franchise taco bell would go public in 1970 13 years after opening its first Glenn Bell jr would sell 868 taco bell restaurants to Pepsi co in 1978.

Scott Luton (12:01):

That’s amazing bill had opened a whopping 868 restaurants in 13 years. That’s a pace of over 66 stores per month. Wow. PepsiCo would run taco bell until 1997. When a then named Tricon global restaurants would purchase taco bell and change the enterprise name to yum brands. And that would combine taco bell with its other fast food holdings, such as Kentucky fried chicken, long John silvers and others as yum brands look to tackle the fast food industry by storm own brands based in Louisville, Kentucky operates over 43,000 restaurants across the world, including some 7,000 taco bell restaurants that serve more than 40 million customers each week. D I think that even Glen bell jr thought to go just that big after selling taco bell, the once and poverished bell became one of the wealthiest individuals in the world. He and Marty would enjoy post taco bell life and Rancho Santa Fe, California, but 1985 bell would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Scott Luton (13:19):

Still. He found plenty of time for a slew of projects and initiatives always fascinated with theme parks like Knott’s Berry farm. And of course, Disneyland Bellwood open bell gardens in 1993, a 115 acre landscaped park and produce farm that included a railroad. It was open to the public Glenn Bell jr. Would find ways to help organizations such as four H a local boys and girls club, the Scripps hospital, the salvation army, and many others bell gardens would be donated to a nonprofit in 2002 and unfortunately closed due to a lack of business and patrons in 2003, Glenn Bell jr. Would pass away at the age of 86 on January 16th, 2010, but his legacy is alive and well, including some of Bell’s key approaches to business. Some 60 key principles of his approach were documented in his before mentioned biography. Bell’s first three rules for his taco bell restaurant chains.

Scott Luton (14:27):

One, you build a business, one customer at a time to find the right product. Then find a way to mass produce it. And three, an innovative product will set you apart. Al perhaps never look at a taco the same way, such an inspiring story of ambition, hard work and success by the one Glenn Bell jr. Hey, a few other items to note on this week in business history for the week, August 31st on September 1st, 1897, the Trimont street subway opened in Boston. It was the first underground rapid transit system in North America. And it’s still in use part of the green line there in Boston. On September 4th, 1888. George Eastman would register Kodak as a trademark and he’d receive a patent for his camera that utilized roll film, which would change photography and film production worldwide. Walter Phillip Ruger would be born on September 1st, 1907, and he’d later spent 24 years of his life leading the United automobile workers into one of the most successful labor unions in the world.

Scott Luton (15:44):

And on September 4th, 1998, two Stanford PhD students, Larry Page and Sergei Brin would form Google in California. That company would go on to have just a little bit of success, including being named as the most visited website in the world that wraps up our show today at this week in business history, there were certainly no shortage of big stories during the week of August 31st in business history. What stands out to you? Tell us, shoot us a note to Amanda at supply chain. Now We’re here to listen. I hope you’ve enjoyed our latest edition of this week in business history. On that note, be sure to check out a wide variety of industry thought leadership at supply chain. Now find us and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts from on behalf of the entire team here at this week in business history and supply chain. Now this is Scott Luton wishing all of our listeners, nothing but the best. Hey, do good give forward and be the change that’s needed. And on that note, we’ll see next time here on this week in business history. Thanks everybody.

Would you rather watch the show in action?  Watch as Scott introduces you to This Week in Business History through our YouTube channel.

Scott W. Luton is the founder & CEO of Supply Chain Now. He has worked extensively in the end-to-end Supply Chain industry for more than 15 years, appearing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Dice and Quality Progress Magazine. Scott was named a 2019 Pro to Know in Supply Chain by Supply & Demand Executive and a 2019 “Top 15 Supply Chain & Logistics Experts to Follow” by RateLinx. He founded the 2019 Atlanta Supply Chain Awards and also served on the 2018 Georgia Logistics Summit Executive Committee. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and holds the APICS Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP) credential. A Veteran of the United States Air Force, Scott volunteers on the Business Pillar for VETLANTA and has served on the boards for APICS Atlanta and the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance. Follow Scott Luton on Twitter at @ScottWLuton and learn more about Supply Chain Now here:


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