The Talking Taco Bell Dog

The first Taco Bell restaurant I went to in the late 1970’s was in Roebuck Alabama. It was small and a little bit on the expensive side for the prices they charge now. I remember the food was good and I loved the fact that I could order an individual taco or burrito and not have to buy a huge meal.

I started becoming more aware of Taco Bell for two reasons. One was the lower prices. The second was a little mascot that made the whole world stand up and take notice.
A small Chihuahua with a voice like Cheech Marin spoke to American audiences and declared in Spanish “Yo quiero Taco Bell.”

The public adored the cute little dog whose name was Gidget. Her image was placed on everything from t-shirts to Frisbees. Taco Bell made many commercials with the pup including my favorite where Gidget is hunting Godzilla in a movie tie-in and calling out ” Here lizard, lizard, lizard.”

It was announced that Gidget took her Final Taxi after suffered a massive stroke on Tuesday at her owner’s home. The famous Chihuahua was 15.

Gidget had kept busy acting even after the Taco Bell commercials. She worked along side the animated lizard in a 2002 GEICO insurance commercial and played the mother of Reese Witherspoon’s dog in “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde” in 2003.

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Rice-A-Roni Inventor – Vincent DeDomenico

In this day and age of both partners having to work to make ends meet, there are many times when I will have to be the one who comes home and cook the dinner for the night. With children you want to make sure you are giving them something good and balanced, not just something with meat and bread.

I have found my best way to make dinner for the family is plan ahead and decide if we are having chicken, pork, fish or beef. I then build the dinner around that meat item. The hardest part with kids is getting them to eat vegetables. After I get those out of the way I have to decide if we have mashed potatoes, macaroni or rice. I have found that an easy staple that every loves to eat is Rice-A-Roni.

I thank Vincent DeDomenico the inventor of Rice-A-Roni at least twice a week. Imagine my shock when I saw that DeDomenico had taken that Final Taxi at age 92.

In 1895, Vincent’s father, Italian-born immigrant, Domenico DeDomenico, moved to California, where he set up a fresh produce store. His wife, Maria’s family had owned a pasta factory in Salerno, Italy, so in 1912 she persuaded him to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco. The enterprise became known as “Gragnano Products, Inc.” It became well know for delivering pasta to Italian stores and restaurants in the area.

Vincent DeDomenico was born on September 29, 1915, in San Francisco, California, the fourth of six children. He and his brothers helped in the family business and in 1934 the family changed the name to “Golden Grain Macaroni Company”.

Vincent invented their signature product of Rice-A-Roni in 1958 after watching a sister-in-law mix a can of Swanson’s chicken broth with rice and vermicelli, which was inspired by the pilaf recipe of a neighbor. She served the dish at a family dinner and creating an instant favorite. Vince took that idea and created Rice-A-Roni by adding a dry chicken soup mix to rice and macaroni. It was first introduced in 1958 in the Northwestern United States. Rice-A-Roni was soon found on American tables coast to coast following the television advertising campaign in the 1960s that featured scenes of San Francisco and its cable cars, along with a catchy jingle to promote the easy-to-make dish. The ads also gave the city much publicity with it’s reference to the point of origin, either family-wise or factory-wise, it was called The San Francisco Treat!, which is a registered trademark.

Another reason I think it got so popular was that on many game shows during the period they gave away a years worth of Rice-A-Roni. I know of someone whose mother was on Let’s Make A Deal with Monty Hall. She won two years worth of the stuff and now he will not touch it. She won because she was dressed as some sort of vegetable. (I think it was a turnip.)

After a trip to Italy in 1964, Vince returned with the idea for “Noodle Roni Parmesano”, based on the classic “Noodles Alfredo”. As the product line extended with various shapes and different sauces it was renamed from Noodle-Roni to Pasta-Roni in 1995. Meanwhile, the Quaker Oats Company purchased the Golden Grain Company from the DeDomenico family in 1986.

A year after the sale, Vince bought 21 miles of Southern Pacific Railroad track in the Napa Valley, restored some 1915 Pullman cars and started the Napa Valley Wine Train, which offers elaborate meals as it travels among the vineyards.

Today at just the sight and sound of the cable car bell I can’t help but play that old jingle in my head.

UPDATE:
Dec. 10-2007 —  Mildred DeDomenico, who grew up on a ranch n North Dakota and later married the creator and founder of Rice-A-Roni has taken her Final Taxi just weeks after her husband.

Mrs. DeDomenico she fell from the steps of the Napa Valley Wine Train station and hit her head. She was 87.  DeDomenico became an expert horse rider growing up as the eldest of five girls on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. During World War II, she lived in San Diego, where she worked as a riveter. After the war ended, she moved to San Francisco and met her future husband at the DeDomenico family business, Golden Grain Macaroni Co.