Odds are you’ve celebrated a “Taco Tuesday.”
But for more than 30 years, the phrase “Taco Tuesday” has been owned by a Wyoming-based Tex-Mex fast-food chain.
Taco John’s, which has more than 370 restaurants across the country, has an active trademark on the phrase in 49 states that dates back to 1989, after a franchisee coined and popularized the moniker for the brand. But on Tuesday, Taco Bell filed a petition to cancel the trademark, saying the phrase should “belong to all who make, sell, eat and celebrate tacos.”
“Taco Bell believes ‘Taco Tuesday’ is critical to everyone’s Tuesday,” the company’s petition to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said. “To deprive anyone of saying ‘Taco Tuesday’—be it Taco Bell or anyone who provides tacos to the world—is like depriving the world of sunshine itself.”
Taco Bell also filed a second petition to cancel the “Taco Tuesday” trademark owned by the restaurant Gregory’s in New Jersey, the lone state where the Taco John’s trademark does not apply. The owners were not available to comment Wednesday night.
After Taco Bell announced its petition to cancel the trademark, Taco John’s rolled out a new deal — two tacos for $2 every day for the rest of the month — in a news release filled with the phrase and a registered trademark symbol beside it.
“Because at Taco John’s®, Every Day is Taco Tuesday®!” the company declared.
The chain stands ready to defend its trademark, as it has in years past, said Barry Westrum, Taco John’s chief marketing officer.
“We recognize that it has become a part of American lexicon, just like ‘Have it your way,’ ‘Where’s the beef?’ ‘The real thing,’” Westrum said, “but that doesn’t give our competitors the right to take it away from us.”
In 1979, Dave Olsen, a Taco John’s franchisee in St. Paul, Minn., coined the phrase as a way to boost business, especially on Tuesdays, which he’d noticed were slower than other days of the week, Westrum said.
At the time, he’d spelled it as “Taco Twosday” because the deal offered two tacos for 99 cents.
The deal — and its name — became extremely popular, playing a role in the success of Taco John’s, which was only about 10 years old. Other franchise locations also started using the “Taco Tuesday” advertising, and the chain has continued to support it in the three decades since it was granted the trademark, Westrum said.
He said that since the petition for cancellation of the trademark went public, the chain has received “overwhelming support.”
“It’s kind of like finders, keepers,” Westrum said. “People recognize that our forefathers made a smart move back in 1989, and any attempts to pry that from us now is just the act of a big corporate bully.”
But what Taco Bell is calling its “liberation of ‘Taco Tuesday’” isn’t just for the company, said Anna Aberman, its legal director.
“We’re hoping that, even though we started this action, that our peers and other people who are selling tacos, big and small, chain restaurants or taco trucks, that they’ll feel even more free to sell their tacos and have people enjoy them as they should,” she said.
Under trademark law, ubiquitous terms cannot be owned by anyone, said Maggie Mettler, the legal director for Yum Brands, Taco Bell’s parent company. Terms such as escalator, aspirin and yo-yo became so common that their trademarks were canceled.
Taco Bell is hoping for a similar result with the “Taco Tuesday” petitions.
“It really is about allowing everyone to use it without fear of legal consequences,” Mettler said.
For Taco John’s, the buzz that the petition created is welcomed as a way for people to learn the story behind the trademark, Westrum said.
“We just really thank Taco Bell for reminding consumers that this is the place to celebrate Taco Tuesday,” he said.