cover art for Taco Bell

The Food That Built America

Taco Bell

Season 2

In the mid-50s, a San Bernardino man named Glen Bell is fixated on McDonald’s. His own burger stand is in shambles, and he’s trying to bounce back. When he looks around, though, he realizes Mexican food is gaining popularity, but that most Americans are afraid of anything that strays from their bland palettes. That’s when he realizes: A taco is really a burger in a shell. With a few fits and starts, Taco Bell is born.

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  • Pop Stars

    Popcorn may very well be the oldest snack food on the planet, but for much of its modern history it was something to be consumed in movie theaters or at fairgrounds - not at home. No truly national brand existed and it was far from the convenient snack it is today. But in the 1950s, Orville Redenbacher believed science could launch popcorn forward, making him a household name. His thousands of hybridizing experiments innovated popcorn down to its genetic code, resulting in a more flavorful pop twice the size of anything the world had seen before. 
  • Let Them Eat Snack Cake

    Nowadays, grocery stores and gas stations are filled with Little Debbie products. In the 1950s, though, snack cakes were just gaining popularity, when a Chattanooga couple took a risk, scrapping big pies in favor of debut snack cakes instead. their company, Little Debbie, now dominates 54% of the snack cake industry with over $890 million in sales.
  • Cookie Fortunes

    In the mid 1970s, a woman who wants to be more than just a housewife, is tired of living in her husband’s shadow. Armed with her phenomenal cookies, Debbi Fields seeks out an unlikely spot for her unlikely business - a cookie shop named Mrs. Fields in a shopping by a woman with no experience. With her husband’s credit on the line, she starts her journey to build a $450 million dollar cookie juggernaut.
  • Chain Reaction

    In the mid-60s, a single perfume salesman finds himself struggling to meet women to date. So, he goes to the bar to complain to the bartender about his predicament. That’s when the salesman has an idea: What if you made your own co-ed bar? What ensues is a quest to make bars coed and fun, and TGI Fridays is born, revolutionizing the idea of sit-down dining and bar culture. Now, the business has 303 locations in the United States.
  • A Dish Best Served Soft

    In Illinois, a father and son working in the wholesale ice cream mixing business have an idea. Convinced that ice cream tastes better fresh before it’s fully-frozen, what if they could create a machine that could dispense it while it’s still only semi-solid? Their names are John and Alex McCullough. By 1940 the McCullough’s open their first store, naming it Dairy Queen.
  • Do or Donut

    Post-World War Two, a food entrepreneur sees promise in a new business. In 1948, William Rosenberg notices two of his offerings selling better than anything else: donuts and coffee. So, he takes a risk, opening a shop with his brother-in-law that will sell just two items. The store, Open Kettle, offers a whopping 52 kinds of hand cut donuts. After a few bumps along the road, Dunkin Donuts is born, and Rosenberg finds a way to dominate the donut business.
  • A Cold One

    150 years ago, German immigrants in the Midwest write the history of beer in America. A recently shipwrecked steamboat captain - Captain Frederick Pabst - buys a local brewery, becoming the largest producer in the city. The crisp American lager we know today is born. 
  • Submarine Warfare

    Sixty years ago, sandwiches were finger food, not a whole meal, and certainly not sold as fast food. But when three high school friends encounter a sub sandwich, they realize it’s the perfect fast-food alternative. As they navigate advertising, business, and menus, they create Blimpie, and reshape the way Americans think about lunch.