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Taco Tiff: It’s Bell vs. John’s for ‘Taco Tuesday’ trademark

A new Taco John's opened on Plaza Drive on Casper's west side in 2019. (Google Maps)

CASPER, Wyo. — It’s a battle between two fast food rivals for the soul of Americanized tacos.

Wyoming-born Taco John’s trademarked the popular phrase “Taco Tuesdays” in 1989. Now its archrival, Taco Bell, wants in on the game.

According to NPR, Taco Bell is arguing that it should be able to use the phrase without legal ramifications, and it filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday asking to have the trademark reversed.

“The Registration potentially subjects Taco Bell and anyone else who wants to share tacos with the world to the possibility of legal action or angry letters if they say ‘Taco Tuesday’ without express permission from Registrant — simply for pursuing happiness on a Tuesday,” the company said in the filing. “This violates an American ideal: ‘the pursuit of happiness.'”

The company said no one should have exclusive rights on a common phrase.

In response to the move, Taco John’s doubled down on its Taco Tuesday trademark, announcing a promotion on Wednesday morning via its Twitter account that all month will be Taco Tuesday.

Waves of support for the beloved Wyoming chain poured in on social media after the news broke yesterday.

“@tacobell should be ashamed of themselves. The reason the phrase has become common use is because of Taco John’s,” said one supporter on Twitter. “YOU CAN TAKE TACO TUESDAY FROM @tacojohns COLD DEAD HANDS YOU MONSTERS,” said another.

According to NPR, Taco Bell has more than 7,200 locations in the U.S. and internationally, and is owned by international conglomerate Yum Brands, which also owns Pizza Hut and KFC brands.

Taco John’s is based in Cheyenne and has about 400 locations.

In a statement released yesterday, Taco John’s CEO Jim Creel said:

“When it comes right down to it, we’re lovers, not fighters, at Taco John’s®,” continued Creel. “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. If ‘living más’ means filling the pockets of Taco Bell’s army of lawyers, we’re not interested.”

The crispy American-taco was inspired by a family-owned Mexican restaurant called Mitla Cafe in San Bernadeno, California. The traditional tacos that were fried after being assembled were a popular item in the 1960s, leading a struggling hamburger stand operator named Glen Bell to take notice. Bell befriended the Milta Cafe owners, observed their kitchen techniques and eventually devised a way to mass-manufacture the crispy shells for fast food. His Taco Bell soon introduced a decisively American taco to a country when traditional Mexican food was mainly available on border towns. Read the full story on Taco Bell’s taco here. (Mitla Cafe is still in business and is still operated by the same Mexican-American family.)