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Taco Bell’s Bell Beefer
Taco Bell was founded in Downey, California by Glen Bell in 1962. It primarily served, as stated in its name, tacos. By the time it started to be franchised in 1964, the menu had developed 5 offerings in addition to soft drinks. Many of these items are still available at Taco Bell today.
Those items were:
Burritos (two types)
If any of those items stand out in retrospect, it’s the Chili Burger. According to some sources, it was added to the menu as a nod to consumers who were more comfortable ordering hamburgers. Imagine their surprise when they got something that was unlike a traditional burger and more like a Sloppy Joe.
Here are two ads featuring the Chili Burger from 1967 and 1968. These ads capture the entirety of the menu at the menu at this point. Notice that everything is still exactly the same price, which was a feature at Taco Bell for a long time.
This Chili Burger consisted of mildly spiced meat, red chill sauce lettuce, and tomato served on a hamburger bun. I imagine many who ordered one, expecting a burger with chili on it, were slightly confused by the name. So in 1968 the name was changed to the Bell Burger.
Here is a coupon from 1968 that reflects the name change. I want to try some of that “Authentic Mexican Candy.”
It was the same ingredients, but with a new name that dropped chili altogether. During the Bell Burger phase, they had a double burger variation called the El Grande, which was double bun, double meat and double toppings.
Branding it with the word “Bell” was a nice change, but it still had the other very familiar word in it, burger.
So around 1977, they opted for a new name, the Bell Beefer. It was a brilliantly descriptive and memorable name. The Beefer, while similar to its predecessors, dropped the cheese and tomato, while adding onion. Although, you could get a Beefer Supreme, which would add tomato and cheese back to the mix.
Here are a few advertisements from the Seventies, which was the high watermark of Bell Beefer hype.
Here is an ad from 1984 that shows the Bell Beefer on the menu. I like it because it also shows how much the menu had grown by that year. My favorite item on this menu was the Taco Salad, not because I ate them, but because I remember their commercial running in the eighties. I had never seen anything like it, and it just made me more intrigued as to what was going on at Taco Bell.
The Taco Bell Bean Week Contest
This has nothing to do with the Bell Beefer, but while doing some reading about it, I found this contest that was being run at a Taco Bell in Tucson, Arizona for “Bean Week” in 1967.
In this contest, you could win a “bean painted” Honda motorbike by guessing the number of beans in its clear plastic saddlebags. I wonder what color “bean painted” was, how long the person who won it owned it, and if they got to also keep the beans?
If I had a time machine, I would certainly pop in and order a chili burger while counting the beans.
This mighty Beefer would stay on the menu for nearly two decades before being retired in the Nineties, much to the disappointment of its dedicated fans.
It would make a brief resurgence in 2012 due to popular demand. Sadly that was a very limited revival and the Beefer was shelved once again. As you might guess, fans are still looking for it. If you go to combination Taco Bell/KFC locations, supposedly you can order an off-menu Beefer. People claim this is possible because the KFC has buns and the rest of the Beefer is standard Taco Bell ingredients. I have my doubts about this being possible without heavy explaining to the people working behind the counter.
In the area of New Jersey I grew up in, we didn’t have a Taco Bell within driving distance. So while I would see Taco Bell advertising on television, I wouldn’t get to visit a restaurant until the late Nineties. It was a remarkable experience, but sadly it was well after the Bell Beefer had gone away.
That’s right, I am one of those people who only knows the Bell Beefer by reputation and the kind of words of its fans. So I join them in waiting for Taco Bell to unleash the Beefer once again.
Rumors continue to appear online about a possible return, but they have been just that, rumors. Still, with the now regular appearance of the McRib at McDonald’s, I have hope that one day I will get to taste this delicious sandwich that has such an interesting lineage.