Cheyenne Restaurant Chain in Dust Up Over Rights to ‘Taco Tuesday’
Taco Bell picks a fight with Taco John’s to cancel chain’s 34-year-old trademark on the phrase
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: May 23, 2023
Cheyenne-based Taco John’s International is in a fight with corporate giant Yum! Brands’ Taco Bell subsidiary over the rights to the phrase “Taco Tuesday,” which the Wyoming chain has owned since 1989. (Courtesy photo from tacojohnsfranchise.com).
By K.L. McQuaid
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Who knew the phrase “Taco Tuesday” was owned by a Cheyenne-based restaurant chain?
Taco John’s International Inc. has maintained a trademark on the term since December 1989, when the company’s Registration No. 1572589 was approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
But last week, Yum! Brands – the international juggernaut behind KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell – filed a petition with the agency to cancel the trademark, citing the ubiquity of the phrase.
“This violates an American ideal: ‘the pursuit of happiness,” Taco Bell wrote in its petition to reverse the Taco John’s trademark. “Nobody should have exclusive rights in a common phrase.”
Taco John’s isn’t planning on willingly giving the phrase up anytime soon, though.
Jim Creel, the company’s president and CEO, responded to the filing by calling Taco Bell, which maintains about 7,200 restaurants in the U.S. to Taco John’s 381, a “big, bad bully.”
“Let’s be honest, they’re not doing this for the good of the American people,” Creel told the Wyoming Truth on Monday. “They’re doing this for the good of Taco Bell. Can you imagine them, if they owned the trademark, wanting to relinquish it?
“We’ve owned the phrase for 34 years, and frankly we’d like to maintain it,” added Creel, who has worked for Taco John’s since 2000.
The “Taco Tuesday” trademark applies to every state in the U.S. except New Jersey, where it is controlled by another restauranteur. Taco Bell is hoping to negate that trademark, too.
Taco John’s was founded in Cheyenne in 1969 by a group led by John Turner. Today, the chain operates in 23 states and generates over $450 million in annual revenue.
Creel said Taco John’s plans to open about 22 new stores this year, mostly in Mountain and Midwestern states.
The regional chain is, perhaps somewhat understandably, possessive of the alliterative phrase.
“Fun fact: We started it!,” Taco John’s website says of the Taco Tuesday term. “We even trademarked it. That’s how seriously we take tacos.”
Not surprisingly, Taco Bell and the folks at Yum! take their sales and marketing pretty seriously as well.
They contend the chain is on a mission to “liberate” the phrase so that everyone – Yum! Brands included, naturally – can be free to use the phrase however they’d like. Maybe in, say, advertising even.
Not having that ability, Taco Bell states in its petition, is like “depriving the world of sunshine.”
Representatives from Taco Bell or Yum! Brands could not be reached for comment.
Legally, Taco Bell may be able to pull off its quest. U.S. trademark law prevents the trademarking of a common phrase or any phrase that becomes part of the American vernacular – even after a trademark registration has been filed for and approved.
Creel said Taco John’s is in the midst of writing a required response to Taco Bell’s petition, which will be submitted to the Patent and Trademark Office.
It could take the agency months, or even years, to rule on Taco Bell’s request.
In the meantime, Taco John’s has put its signature menu item on sale. For the rest of this month – and not just on Tuesdays – it’s offering two tacos for $2.
“We’ve absolutely seen an increase in sales since the petition was filed,” Creel said. “For now, we’re taking it all in fun.”