After high school graduation in 1941, he worked for the U.S. Forestry Service and for the military near Barstow before joining the Marines. Bell's wartime service -- as a waiter serving top military brass in the South Pacific -- taught him how to balance the amount of food needed by specific numbers of diners, and the importance of clean and prompt service.
At war's end, he returned to San Bernardino and worked in a brickyard and the railroad yard before founding Bell's Hamburgers and Hot Dogs in 1948, which he later sold to in-laws.
He also built a second hamburger stand in San Bernardino. When he developed and sold that first 19-cent taco at that location, Bell separated himself from the neighboring competitors he so admired, Mac and Dick McDonald. He had found his profitable niche.
But Bell's success, built through long work days, destroyed his six-year marriage to Dorothy Taylor, the mother of his oldest son, Rex. They divorced in 1953.
As he restlessly built new stores and explored developing chains of food shops with partners, only to sell his interest, he influenced the creation of such fast-food brands as Taco Tia, Del Taco, El Taco, and even Der Wienerschnitzel, whose owner he tutored.
In 1953, at age 30, Bell struck out for Barstow and built Bell's Hamburgers, selling tacos and hamburgers. He took in a partner, Ed Hackbarth, who in 1964 would found Del Taco.