Born in Lynwood, California and growing up in California, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. Bell left the military in 1946 and started his first hot dog stand, called Bell's Drive-In, in San Bernardino in 1948. In 1952, he sold the hot dog stand and built a second stand that sold hot dogs and hamburgers. Shortly thereafter, he started selling tacos at the price of 19 cents each from a side window. Between 1954 and 1955, he opened three Taco Tias in the San Bernardino area, eventually selling those restaurants & opening four El Tacos with a partner in the Long Beach area.
In 1962, he decided to go solo and sold the El Tacos to his partner and opened his first Taco Bell. Bell franchised his restaurant in 1964. His company grew rapidly, and the 868-restaurant chain was later sold to PepsiCo in 1978 for $125 million in stock.
Bell died on January 16, 2010, at age 86. He is survived by his wife Martha, two sons, a daughter, four grandchildren, and three sisters.