Did you know that every time you say the words “Taco Tuesday” you’re violating a trademark?
It’s true. The phrase is owned by the Wyoming based chain Taco John’s, which trademarked it 34 years ago. (It was originally Taco Twosday because they sold their already-cheap tacos two-for-one on Tuesdays.)
Now everyone says it, because the only thing we like better than tacos is alliteration. (Making a note to see who owns Wine Down Wednesday.)
But now Taco Bell has filed a petition with the US Patent and Trademark office to have the trademark rescinded. Bell is not going after John’s for selfish reasons; it is only thinking of you.
Taco Bell’s filing – which was submitted, cheekily, on Tuesday – states that its petition is on behalf of “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 [Taco John’s] — simply for pursuing happiness on a Tuesday.” Also Taco Bell.
It seems frivolous, but I know that these things are taken seriously. Still, I have a feeling that TB might come out victorious on this one.
Let me tell you a story.
In early 1989, Pizzeria Uno, which was based in Chicago, opened its first Orlando restaurant. And no sooner had it opened than its lawyer sent a cease and desist letter to a mom and pop restaurant on South Orange Avenue. The restaurant was Numero Uno. The letter explained that Pizzeria Uno owned the rights to use Uno and that Numero Uno was violating its trademark. Never mind that the Cuban restaurant had been in existence for years before the pizzeria showed up.
As the brash young restaurant critic at the Orlando Sentinel – I hadn’t been in the position yet a year – I decided to take up the cause and wrote a few Chow Hound columns about the David versus Goliath case of the big bad pizzeria beating up on a small restaurant. And the readers, many of whom are still alive today, responded with lots of negativity aimed at Pizzeria Uno.
Then one day Pizzeria Uno’s president called me from his car as he was being driven to the airport. The first thing I thought was, “Why is the president of a pizza company calling me?” The second thing I thought was, “Whoa! This guy has a phone in his car!” Because, 1989.
I started to question him about the motives of his company going after a small-time Cuban cafe but he stopped me. Basically, he said (I’m paraphrasing), “If you would just shut up and drop this it can all just go away.”
He explained that as the holder of the Uno trademark, the company must send cease and desist letters to any entity they learn to be using it without authorization. If the company didn’t send such notices, even to small companies, it wouldn’t be able to defend the trademark if it ever came to a legal contest. Anyone contesting the trademark could just point to a little restaurant in Orlando that uses Uno in its name and show that Pizzeria Uno never contacted it to insist it change its name.
Of course, Numero Uno did not change its name, and Pizzeria Uno did not initiate legal proceedings. The issue just went away, but Pizzeria Uno’s butt, as it were, was covered.
So Taco Bell, in its filing, should only have to demonstrate that Taco John’s knew about just one other restaurant using Taco Tuesday without authorization to make its case.
And since the phrase is so prevalent, and unless Taco John’s has a roomful of attorneys who do nothing but send Taco Tuesday cease and desist letters, Taco Bell may prevail. And we’ll all be able to say Taco Tuesday out loud.