The untold truth of Taco Bell

If you've ever gotten a late-night craving for some crunchy tacos and a frozen Mountain Dew Baja Blast, chances are you've headed on over to your local Taco Bell. With locations in every state (one dedicated fan even road-tripped around the country to eat at a Taco Bell in each one) andalmost  30 countries, the chain is pretty ubiquitous. 

Sure, the menu has gone through some changes over the years. The original restaurant served up crunchy tacos (which the Anglo customers apparently called Tay-Kohs) along with something called the chiliburger, but the restaurant's offerings evolved over the years to include beloved discontinued Taco Bell menu items like the Enchirito, Extreme Nachos, and the probably best forgotten Seafood Salad. 

Even if you've mastered the art of the copycat Crunchwrap Supreme recipe and your glove compartment is overflowing with expired packets of Fire Sauce that you refuse to let go of, there's still a lot you may not know about Taco Bell. From the story of how they invented their now-famous Doritos Locos Tacos to a few of their zaniest promotions, these weird facts about Taco Bell might just end up making you hungry enough to hit the drive-thru.

Taco Bell has some of the best vegetarian fast food options around

Taco Bell may be known for its meaty items like the Chipotle Chicken Loaded Griller and budget-friendly Beefy Fritos Burrito, but like a lot of other fast food restaurants, it's making expanding their vegan and vegetarian options a priority. 

While Taco Bell has always been a good option for those who eat meat-free (you can sub any of the meat products in their menu items for beans, rice, or potatoes, all of which are vegan, and their guacamole can be subbed for sour cream), in 2019 it made a corporate commitment to making their menu even more friendly to vegetarians and vegans. 

There are already 8 million vegetarian combinations diners can choose from at Taco Bell, and the chain is also testing their first official vegetarian menu. They even have a guide to eating vegan at Taco Bell on their website that was created in partnership with the American Vegetarian Association, which shows diners how to make some of their most classic menu items, like the Crunchwrap Supreme and soft taco, both meat and dairy free. 

The chain is also testing some new vegetarian items for 2019, so meat-free diners should keep their eyes peeled for these menu additions.

Taco Bell's Batman movie promo in 1989 changed fast food advertising

In 1989, Taco Bell did something that not a lot of its peers were experimenting with at the time. They teamed up with the Tim Burton-directed Batman movie premiering that year for an advertising campaign that wound up being a huge success. 

Taco Bell ran a promotion all summer involving Batman Collector Cups, and it ended up breaking records for the chain's promotional-tie ins. Customers who ordered a large drink would get one of the collectible plastic Batman cups, and Taco Bell restaurants were decorated with massive cardboard cutouts of Batman to drum up excitement.

One store reported that their sales went up 25 percent thanks to the promotion, and sales of large drinks at one location went from 600 to 1,000 a day. 

Not only did the campaign boost sales at Taco Bell, but it also inspired Batman enthusiasts to actually steal the cardboard cutouts that were on display at the restaurants, leading one company spokesperson to say that Batman himself might actually be needed to come help save his cardboard cutouts from being stolen. 

According to Digital Spy, this was one of the first times a movie was advertised across so many platforms that it became a product in itself — but it certainly wasn't the last time.

Their beef isn't 100 percent beef... and it comes in a bag

There have been a lot of rumors about Taco Bell's beef over the years, with skeptics claiming that it was made with everything from mealworms to Grade D beef — which, spoiler alert, doesn't even exist. 

While Taco Bell's beef does come pre-cooked and in bags, the rest of the truth is a lot less scandalous than claims that the chain's meat is only 36 percent beef.

It's actually 88 percent beef, and the other ingredients rounding out the recipe are pretty common. 

Yes, they do use some fillers derived from oats, and the meat is blended with soy lecithin, which is used to make sure the ingredients in their beef don't separate, but overall the ingredient list isn't anything more shocking than what you'd find at any fast food restaurant. 

These days the chain is doing even more to make sure their beef is up to standard. Taco Bell is focusing on sourcing more of their beef from sustainable suppliers, and they're also prioritizing suppliers that are reducing the use of antibiotics with their cattle. Who knows, maybe they'll keep inching closer to having meat that's 100 percent... well, meat. 

Taco Bell tried (and failed) to be successful in Mexico

As anyone who has had a taco in Mexico could probably tell you, Taco Bell's signature menu item, a ground beef taco in a crunchy pre-formed shell, is as American as can be. The chain was started in California, after all. Nevertheless, Taco Bell has tried several times to branch out into Mexico... and failed.

Taco Bell, which serves over 2 billion customers a year, hasn't been able to make it in Mexico, even though they've made multiple attempts. The chain first attempted to make its way into the Mexican food scene when it opened a taco cart and several Taco Bell's next to existing KFC restaurants in Mexico City in 1992. There was confusion from the get go, as Mexican customers didn't know what to expect from the menu — Taco Bell's signature crispy "tacos" were more similar to tostadas than a Mexican taco, for one. Within two years, Taco Bell had closed all of its locations in Mexico.

In 2007, the chain tried again. They opened a location in a shopping mall parking lot next to a Dairy Queen in Monterrey, and tried to focus on its reputation as an American fast-food chain, rather than as a Mexican food chain. They served french fries and soft serve ice cream along with the classic Taco Bell menu offerings, but even that wasn't enough to convince Mexican consumers that the chain was a good fit, and by 2010 Taco Bell once again closed up shop in the country. 

The founder of Taco Bell invented pre-formed crunchy taco shells

If you grew up thinking that all tacos came in a crunchy yellow shell and could be made effortlessly from a boxed kit of Old El Paso, you're not alone. But that version of the taco is a relatively new arrival on the scene — in fact, the crunchy pre-formed taco shell was actually invented by Taco Bell founder Glen Bell in the early '60s. 

Bell was trying to figure out the best way to sell large amounts of tacos quickly, and that's when he came up with the pre-formed crunchy taco shell. Unlike tacos dorados, a type of pan-fried crispy taco, these pre-formed crispy taco shells could be made ahead of time and kept at room temperature until needed. 

This was essential, because Bell was trying to compete with McDonald's, another booming chain that was taking off in San Bernardino, California. Pre-formed taco shells made it so employees didn't have to cook every single taco to order — they could just stuff the shell and sell, helping to boost their output and keep up with their hungry customers' demands.

Pepsi bought Taco Bell in 1978

Taco Bell is currently owned by Yum! Brands, which also owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and several other chains (which explains why you'll sometimes see a combo KFC/Taco Bell or Taco Bell/Pizza Hut). But it wasn't always so. While Taco Bell started off as an independent chain of franchises, in 1978 PepsiCo bought Taco Bell from company founder Glen Bell for $125 million.

Apparently, PepsiCo had been interested in Taco Bell since the early '60s after seeing how successful it had become. They even went so far as to buy a midwestern franchise called Taco Boy that they rebranded as Taco Kid, operated under the Pizza Hut brand, hoping it could be a competitor. When Taco Kid failed to thrive under PepsiCo's ownership, they decided to just buy Taco Bell instead. 

Eventually, PepsiCo spun off their restaurant properties into a separate entity, Tricon Global Restaurants, which is now Yum! Brands. But PepsiCo and Taco Bell still work together. Taco Bell serves PepsiCo brand soft drinks to this day, and PepsiCo is the owner of Frito-Lay, the maker of Doritos and Fritos, both of which are included in certain Taco Bell menu items (like the Doritos Locos Tacos and the Beefy Fritos Burrito). 

Taco Bell originally sold hot dogs and hamburgers

Glen Bell's first restaurant didn't sell tacos at all — it sold hot dogs and hamburgers. This was at Bell's Drive-In, which was Bell's first restaurant, incidentally operating out of San Bernardino, which is also the birthplace of McDonald's

Glenn eventually expanded his business, opening Taco Tia, where he sold hot dogs, hamburgers, and tacos (his chili dog recipe was the inspiration for Taco Bell's original taco sauce). He originally decided to open his restaurant in a Mexican neighborhood so that if sales of tacos took off, his competitors would write it off as being a regional success, rather than one that could be replicated elsewhere. Eventually Bell realized that tacos were the key to the success of his business and should be his focus, especially after he invented pre-formed taco shells and figured out how to quickly serve tacos to the masses instead of cooking tacos to order. He opened a restaurant called El Taco, then eventually sold his shares in that and his Taco Tia locations in order to open the first Taco Bell in 1962 in Downey, California.

At the original Taco Bell, tacos and other Mexican-American favorites were the star and were sold for just 19 cents a piece. However, the restaurant did keep serving burgers for awhile, in the form of chiliburgers, but the last burger-esque item on the menu, the Bell Beefer, was discontinued in the '90s. 

The Taco Bell dog didn't make the company money

Chances are that at some point in the 1990s you saw one of Taco Bell's "Yo quiero Taco Bell!" commercials featuring a little Chihuahua named Gidget, part of a $500 million advertising campaign. Strangely enough, though the campaign was widely aired and became part of the cultural lexicon of the decade, it turns out that the expensive commercial campaign didn't actually increase sales for Taco Bell. 

In fact, it cost the company money in more than one way. That's because in 2003, two men who say they created the idea of the Taco Bell dog sued the company for $42 million, and Taco Bell eventually settled the case out of court. 

Gidget passed away in 2009 at the ripe old age of 15, and her trainer says that her Taco Bell gig pretty much ruined her career. "She was kind of typecast, so she never really go much work after that," said her trainer. However, though her stardom waned, Gidget was able to stay above the Taco Bell scandal. After her days as a Taco Bell darling the little pup starred in Legally Blonde 2 as Bruiser, the dog belonging to legal wizard Elle Woods, and also had a bit part in the movie Beverly Hills Chihuahua

There were more than 40 test versions of Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco

When Taco Bell first introduced their now-famous Doritos Locos Tacos, they had no idea it would be a hit, but after selling 100 million nacho cheese Doritos Locos Tacos in the first 70 days that it was on the menu, it was clear that all of their testing and prototyping had paid off. 

Making the cheesy Doritos Locos shell took a lot of hard work. 40 different versions were tested before they settled on the final product. The company wanted to make sure that the shell had the signature cheesiness of a regular Dorito chip, but the taco shell needed to maintain its original texture, as the texture of a regular Dorito is too brittle and would break when stuffed with taco ingredients. 

Another hurdle to the invention was worker safety. Initially, blasting the taco shells with cheesy powder proved to be a hazard to the workers, who would inhale it, so the company had to create a totally new machine for seasoning the shells safely. 

Taco Bell's hard work paid off, and with more than a billion Doritos Locos Tacos sold in the year of their introduction. There's no denying that they're now a fast food legend.

It wasn't until 2018, when the chain introduced Nacho Fries, that the Doritos Locos Tacos were dethroned as the most popular new Taco Bell menu item of all time. 

The original Taco Bell was moved to company headquarters

The original Taco Bell restaurant opened up in 1962 in Downey, California, but "Taco Bell Numero Uno," as the company calls it, ceased to operate as a Taco Bell in 1986. 

However, even though the building was no longer an official Taco Bell restaurant, it was rented out to other taquerias over the years until 2014, when it was abandoned for good... that is, until Taco Bell decided that they couldn't let this piece of their history get torn down. 

Instead, they decided to lift the building off its foundation and transport it to the current-day company headquarters in Irvine, California, 45 miles away. The journey took place on November 19, 2015, and luckily the petite 400-square-foot building made it safely through the streets of Los Angeles to its new home. The journey was even documented on video so superfans of the chain could watch its migration.

The chain hasn't said what plans, if any, they have for Taco Bell Numero Uno now that it's safely settled in at its new location, but at the very least they've preserved an important piece of the company's history. 

There's a Taco Bell hotel

You've heard of a bed & breakfast, so why not have a Taco Bell Hotel? Apparently the chain thought the idea wasn't too crazy to try out, and in August of 2019, they opened up The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort in Palm Springs, California, for the weekend of August 8-12 only.

Guests age 18 and over who successfully nabbed a room got to enjoy a Taco Bell-themed room, and the hotel itself (which usually operates as the V Palm Springs Resort) was decked out with Taco Bell memorabilia, a Taco Bell gift shop, a Taco Bell nail salon, and got to enjoy a "happier hour" that included Taco Bell snacks and cocktails for those 21 and older. There was also a Mountain Dew Baja Blast "Freeze Lounge" to hang out in, "dive-in" movies in the pool, and Taco Bell on call when ordering room service. 

There were only 70 rooms available at the resort, and when Taco Bell opened up their reservations, they booked fast — in fact, every room was reserved within two minutes. Basically, in the time it takes the average person to wolf down a Crunchwrap, the rooms were already sold. Here's hoping this is one weird stunt they revisit — every Taco Bell fan deserves a chance to stay at The Bell.

Taco Bell delivered 10,000 tacos to Alaska via helicopter

There may be 15 Taco Bell restaurants in Alaska, but it's a huge state, so if you don't live nearby one of them, good luck getting your Chalupa on when the craving strikes. That's why it was so tragic when residents of Bethel, Alaska fell for a hoax that claimed the small town of less than 7,000 people was finally getting its own Taco Bell, something to celebrate when the nearest Taco Bell is 400 miles away from home. However, it turned out to be a hoax. Someone had put up flyers around the town advertising the restaurant opening, and when residents realized it wasn't so, they were devastated. 

Taco Bell to the rescue. When they heard about the prank, they decided to take action. "If we can feed people in Afghanistan and Iraq, we can feed people in Bethel," the company CEO waxed poetically. While the chain didn't actually set up shop in Bethel, they did the next best thing — helicoptered in a delivery of hundreds of pounds of food, enough for the town to come together and cook up 10,000 Doritos Locos Tacos. Video shows a delivery truck loaded with ingredients being lowered safely to the ground by helicopter, and though there's no footage of what happened next, we can only assume the people of Bethel feasted like they'd never feasted before.