What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Taco Tuesday”? Do you associate it with a specific restaurant chain or do you consider it a generic term for a themed dinner night out or at home? This question is at the heart of a legal dispute between two rival taco chains: Taco John’s and Taco Bell.
Taco John’s, a fast-food chain based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, has trademarked “Taco Tuesday” since 1989 and has sent cease-and-desist letters to other businesses that use the term. The company claims that a Minnesota franchisee began using “Taco Twosday” to advertise two tacos for 99 cents in the early 1980s and that the term is part of its “DNA”.
However, Taco Bell, a larger rival chain with more than 7,000 locations in the U.S., filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on May 16, 2023, asking for the trademark to be reversed. The company argues that “Taco Tuesday” is a common phrase that should be freely available to all who make, sell, eat and celebrate tacos.
“It’s a bold brand action that we hope others are willing to support,” said Maggie Mettler, director of legal for Taco Bell’s parent company Yum! Brands.
The petition also cites LeBron James, a basketball superstar who often posts videos of his family enjoying tacos on Tuesdays. James tried to trademark “Taco Tuesday” in 2019 but was rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
A legal expert doubts Taco John’s has much of a case, saying that “Taco Tuesday” has suffered from “genericide” – it has become too well-known to continue to be identified with a particular company.
“Like ‘raisin bran,’ ‘escalator,’ ‘nylon’ and other formerly trademarked products, ‘Taco Tuesday’ has suffered from ‘genericide’ – it has become too well-known to continue to be identified with a particular company,” said Michael Atkins, a Seattle-based attorney.
Taco John’s CEO Jim Creel defended his company’s trademark and accused Taco Bell of being a bully.
“When it comes right down to it, we’re lovers, not fighters, at Taco John’s. But when a big, bad bully threatens to take away the mark our forefathers originated so many decades ago, well, that just rings hollow to us,” Creel said.
The dispute has sparked a debate among taco lovers and consumers who have different opinions on whether “Taco Tuesday” should belong to one company or not.
One example is Freedom’s Edge Brewing Co., a local brewery in Cheyenne that received a cease-and-desist letter from Taco John’s for using “Taco Tuesday” to advertise a taco truck parked outside on Tuesdays.
“We have nothing against Taco John’s but do find it comical that some person in their corporate office would choose to send a cease and desist to a brewery that doesn’t sell or profit from the sales of tacos,” the brewery wrote on Facebook.
The petition by Taco Bell is still pending before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Until then, taco fans may have to think twice before using or hearing the phrase “Taco Tuesday”.