As It Happens5:29N.J. man who doesn’t like tacos takes on Taco Bell in battle for ‘Taco Tuesday’

Gregory Gregory, a New Jersey restaurant owner who doesn’t particularly care for tacos, is the last holdout against fast food giant Taco Bell’s legal bid to “liberate” the Taco Tuesday trademark.

Gregory owns Gregory’s Restaurant & Bar, which has been slinging tacos under the Taco Tuesday banner since 1979, and has held the trademark for the phrase in New Jersey since 1982. 

And he’s not about to give it up without a fight. 

“I’m not worried about Taco Bell using it. I’m worried about the guy next door using it, the bar down the street using it,” Gregory told As It Happens guest host Katie Simpson.

“I have a file folder full of cease-and-desist letters I sent to other bars and restaurants trying to steal our thunder. We came up with this. We pay our fees. We went through the trademark process. We should continue to have it.”

The last man standing

In May, Taco Bell filed a petition to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in May seeking to cancel the Taco Tuesday trademark nationwide.

The fast food chain, which has more than 7,200 locations around the world and is part of the larger Yum Brands fast food corporation, described this as a mission to “liberate the phrase for restaurants nationwide.” 

In its patent filing, Taco Bell’s attorneys argued that depriving people of free use of “Taco Tuesday” would be like depriving them “of sunshine itself.”

It even featured LeBron James in TV ads about the campaign. One Taco Bell press release describes James as a “global icon and longtime ‘Taco Tuesday’ enthusiast.”

A large barn-shaped building with a big sign that reads: "Restaurant" in red, and an adjacent neon sign with an arrow pointing towards the building that reads "Gregory's Bar."
Gregory says he plans to pass down his restaurant to his grandson one day. (Gregory’s Bar/Facebook )

Taco Bell’s main target in this campaign was Taco John’s, a Wyoming-based chain that owns about 370 locations in 23 states.

Taco John’s had held the trademark in the country’s remaining 49 states since 1989, and had a long history of sending cease-and-desist orders to any U.S. restaurant that used the phrase — except, of course, for Gregory’s Restaurant & Bar. 

Nevertheless, last month, the company relented and gave up its trademarks. 

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being the home of Taco Tuesday, but paying millions of dollars to lawyers to defend our mark just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do,” CEO Jim Creel said in a statement at the time. 

Seattle trademark attorney Michael Atkins told The Associated Press it was a wise decision.

“It was silly for them to try to claim monopoly rights over an ordinary phrase,” Atkins said. “They would’ve lost.”

Two people stand in a Taco Bell looking up at the menu behind the counter.
Taco Bell, which is owned by the corporate giant Yum Brands, is trying to have the trademark for ‘Taco Tuesday’ thrown out in the U.S. (Wilfredo Lee/The Associated Press)

Now Gregory remains the last man standing in the battle for Taco Tuesday. 

“They’re unrelenting,” Gregory said of Taco Bell. “And I’m hanging on as long as I can.”

Asked for comment, Taco Bell spokesperson Taylor Montgomery said: “We remain committed to freeing Taco Tuesday throughout the country, including in New Jersey.”

So far, the company hasn’t gone after the trademark outside the U.S., and it’s not clear whether it intends to. 

“Trademark law and consumer understanding are different in every country, so while we cannot provide a simple answer about plans in other countries, our ultimate goal is to create a world where everyone can celebrate Taco Tuesday,” Montgomery said in an email. 

In Canada, the Taco Tuesday trademark belongs to the chain TacoTime, which in 2018 made headlines for sending a cease-and-desist letter to a Calgary cantina that was using the phrase.  

TacoTime did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Taco Tuesday. Gregory Gregory’

The true origins of the phrase Taco Tuesday are highly debated, but Gregory says he coined the term in 1979 after noticing a massive line in the food court for tacos at Philadelphia’s Gallery mall. 

Until then, he told the Washington Post he’d never heard of the Mexican staple, and mispronounced it as a “take-o.”

He tried one and didn’t care for it, he told the newspaper, and still doesn’t like them now. 

Asked by CBC whether he likes his own restaurant’s tacos, he said: “I like everything but the meat and cheese and the shells. I like the tomatoes.”

He then walked it back, saying: “OK, my tacos, I like them.”

A woman in a pony tail picture from behind, points both thumbs at the back of her yellow T-shirt, which reads: "The Original Taco Tues and Thurs are Back! Gregory's Restaurant & Bar, Somers Point, TACO TUESDAY."
A worker at Gregory’s Bar & Restaurant in Somers Point, N.J., promotes the establishment’s Taco Tuesday night. The restaurant claims to have coined the term and owns the trademark in New Jersey. (Gregory’s Bar/Facebook)

Despite his personal preferences, he recognized their mass appeal back then, and he knew he had to add them to his menu.

“They didn’t want to put them on the regular menu because Mexican food in 1979 was really rare around this area. And I said, if we can’t put them on the menus, let’s have them one night of the week,” he told CBC.

At the time, he says a local bar called Tony Mart had a popular cheap booze night known as Drink and Drown Wednesday.

“So we decided to do it on Tuesday before everybody went out on Wednesday,” he said. “We’ll call Taco Tuesday. Rolls right off the tongue. Taco Tuesday. Gregory Gregory.”

In the 44 years since, he says Gregory’s has sold over two million tacos. It’s a key component of his business, he said, and one he intends to pass along to his 14-year-old grandson one day.

“I have to protect this,” he said. “It’s good and it’s a legacy.”

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