"The liberation of Taco Tuesday begins": Taco Bell fights to free "Taco Tuesday" from trademark

But the current owner of the "Taco Tuesday" trademark says that the chain is actually a "big, bad bully"

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published May 24, 2023 4:57PM (EDT)

A sign in front of a Taco Bell restaurant (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A sign in front of a Taco Bell restaurant (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In 1989, the Wyoming-based taco chain Taco John's kickstarted a seasonal "Taco Twosday" campaign, during which customers could get two tacos for 99 cents. The promotion was so popular that the company decided to make it a key part of their marketing strategy and, after shifting the final wording just slightly to "Taco Tuesday" they trademarked the phrase. 

And for the last three and half decades, Taco John's has maintained that trademark, even as the concept of "Taco Tuesday" has grown in cultural popularity across the country — but now, another taco chain is arguing that the phrase  "should belong to all who make, sell, eat, and celebrate tacos."

On May 16, Taco Bell released a statement titled "The Liberation Of 'Taco Tuesday' Begins: Taco Bell Fights To Cancel Existing Trademark Registrations." It read, in part: 

How can anyone Live Más if they're not allowed to freely say "Taco Tuesday?" It's pure chaos. Taco Bell seeks no damages or trademark rights in "Taco Tuesday." 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. 

The chain — which has 15,638 United States locations to Taco John's 360 — also launched a new commercial starring Los Angeles Lakers legend Lebron James titled "Taco Bleep." 

"No more trademarks, no more beeps, starting right now," James says in the commercial, which debuted on Monday along with a petition launched by Taco Bell called "Freeing Taco T***day." It currently has around 2,300 of the brand's desired 2,500 signatures. 

As NBC Los Angeles reported, "Taco Bleep" takes on an extra delicious layer of irony when you remember that Lebron James' once attempted to trademark the phrase "Taco Tuesday," but was "denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which ruled it to be a 'commonplace term.'" According to the publication, a spokesman for James told ESPN's Dave McMenamin at the time that the application was filed "to ensure LeBron cannot be sued for any use of 'Taco Tuesday.'"

Taco John's has 40 days to respond to Taco Bell's petition. In the meantime, however, they seem to be taking the legal challenge/publicity stunt in stride. The company has launched a "two tacos for $2" Taco Tuesday deal and their CEO, Jim Creel, responded to Taco Bell's lawsuit last week.

"When it comes right down to it, we're lovers, not fighters, at Taco John's®," Creel said in a statement. "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."

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Lawsuit Taco Bell Taco John's Taco Tuesday