Franchise Lawyer Blog

Vision and Nerve

Tuesday’s New York Times (January 19, 2010), provided an obituary of Glen W. Bell, the founder of the now enormous Taco Bell franchised restaurant chain. The obituary tells the story, inspiring in this current economic climate, of Mr. Bell’s invention of the crispy-shell taco and the growth of the original Taco Tia restaurant to the 5600 unit Taco Bell franchise chain currently operated by Yum! Brands.
Mr. Bell is credited with introducing mainstream America to Mexican food, an idea that seems obvious now but was undoubtedly revolutionary when he thought of it. At the time, the late 1940′s, he was competing with a number of fledgling fast food chains in what The Times describes as an “emerging Southern California car culture.” One of those competitors was a hamburger stand only a few miles away that was run by two brothers named McDonald. Mr. Bell recognized that he needed a hook, something to distinguish himself from the pack, and he found it in the taco. He altered the design of the traditional taco from a soft shell to a crispy shell to make it easier to sell (and eat). The rest, as they say, is history.
Mr. Bell, who served in the Marines in the Pacific in World War II, obviously did not lack for nerve, trying to sell a completely untested food in a largely untested format. But that kind of innovation has been at the heart of nearly every successful franchise concept. You have to differentiate yourself from the competition. Doing so takes nerve, because to provide something truly innovative, it has to be something that has not been done quite that way before. And no one knows how or if that is going to work.

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