Taco Bell Actually Did It

The battle over Taco Tuesday has come to a surprising conclusion.

Update, July 19, 2023: In some surprising taco-related news, the battle over who owns the phrase "Taco Tuesday" has concluded with the original trademark owner relinquishing the rights. Yes, after a legal battle with Taco Bell, Taco John's has chosen to give up its federal trademark on Taco Tuesday, per a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Jim Creel, CEO of Taco John's, told The Wall Street Journal that the company estimated it could cost as much as $1 million to defend the trademark.

"We've always prided ourselves on being the home of Taco Tuesday, but paying millions of dollars to lawyers to defend our mark just doesn't feel like the right thing to do," Creel said in a statement, adding that instead of defending the trademark in court, the company will be donating $100 on behalf of each of its almost 400 locations to Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE), a nonprofit for restaurant workers in crisis and their families. Taco John's is publicly challenging Taco Bell to do the same.

The trademark for Taco Tuesday is still owned in New Jersey by Gregory's, a local business. Gregory Gregory, co-owner of the business, told Reuters there are no plans to give up the trademark and he was "shocked" Taco John's gave up so soon.

Original post, May 16, 2023: Our very foundations of government were built on the premise of being of the people, by the people, for the people, and yet our freedom to celebrate Tex-Mex food has been shackled by a single powerful restaurant chain. Yes, "Taco Tuesday," a beautiful occasion for all, is the rightful property of just one fast food brand—but Taco Bell has decided it's time for that to change.

Who owns Taco Tuesdays?

I've posed the question before: Who would dare trademark Taco Tuesday? Answer: Taco John's.

Legally, the phrase "Taco Tuesday" cannot be used by any restaurant or business other than the Wyoming-based Taco John's, sort of like how the NFL owns the trademark to "Super Bowl." Taco John's claims to have invented the concept of setting aside an alliterative day of the week for eating tacos, though many have disputed that claim (read more about it here).

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The earliest use of the phrase Taco Tuesday, multiple sources claim, occurred at Snow White Drive-In, which had it printed in South Dakota's Rapid City Journal in 1973. Other documented uses of the phrase occurred long before 1979, when Taco John's claims to have started it, and 1989, when the brand obtained the trademark.

As if staking claim to such a commonly used phrase wasn't enough, Taco Johns has acted on its rights by sending out cease and desist letters to many businesses over the years. Today, the chain is not shy in boasting about its ownership of the phrase. The brand's website reads, "Ever hear of Taco Tuesday®? We started it! We even trademarked it. That's how seriously we take tacos."

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Given the dubiousness of these claims and the fact that restriction of the phrase hurts all taco joints equally, Taco Bell has announced that it will join the legal fight to liberate the phrase "Taco Tuesday" once and for all. Leave it to Taco Bell to fight the good fight.

What Taco Bell is doing about Taco Tuesday

Taco Bell has filed a legal petition to cancel the trademark registration of "Taco Tuesday" via the United States Patent and Trademark Office. What exactly does that mean? Importantly, Taco Bell is not seeking to own the trademark itself. Rather, its intentions are, on paper at least, surprisingly altruistic.

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"Taco Bell seeks no damages or trademark rights in 'Taco Tuesday,'" reads the press release in part. "It simply seeks common sense for usage of a common term. In filing the legal petitions, Taco Bell is honoring people's right to come together and celebrate the joys of tacos, on Tuesdays and every other day."

Also notable is the fact that Taco John's owns the trademark in 49 states, but in the 50th state, New Jersey, the trademark is owned by Gregory's, a small local business. Taco Bell has also filed a petition to cancel the trademark there as well; the brand's aim is full nationwide liberation.

Tacos are a cultural staple, one that ought to be shared and enjoyed communally. And sure, I don't need a dedicated day to enjoy a tortilla filled with the good stuff, but setting aside at least one day a week for savoring this glorious creation is a worthy project for us all. It's time to let go, John.

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