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August 14, 2023

Taco Bell excludes New Jersey from Taco Tuesday promotion amid trademark fight with Somers Point restaurant

Gregory's Restaurant & Bar has owned the rights to the phrase in New Jersey since 1979. And it's refusing to relinquish them despite a battle that its owner likens to 'Davy Crockett at the Alamo'

Food & Drink Tacos
gregory's bar taco tuesday Franki Rudnesky/PhillyVoice

New Jersey has been left out of Taco Bell's new Taco Tuesday promotion because Gregory's Restaurant & Bar in Somers Point, above, retains the trademark to the phrase in the state.

The fast food chain Taco John's gave up its trademark on "Taco Tuesday" in 49 states in July, ending a months-long battle prompted by rival Taco Bell's wish to "liberate" the alliterative phrase. Taco Bell is celebrating its victory by giving out free tacos over the next several Tuesdays.

But the Taco Bell restaurants in New Jersey will not be participating in the deal. That's because Gregory's Restaurant & Bar, at 900 Shore Road in Somers Point, has owned the trademark in New Jersey for more than four decades and is refusing to relinquish it.

"The Taco Tuesday trademark registration has been canceled in all states except New Jersey," Taco Bell said when it revealed the promotion last week. "Therefore, the DoorDash offer will be limited to the 49 states where Taco Tuesday has been freed."

Taco Bell is opening a $5 million "taco tab" on DoorDash to cover a portion of taco orders placed on the app on Tuesday, Sept. 12. In the meantime, all Taco Bell locations – except for those in New Jersey – are offering free Doritos Locos Tacos on the following Tuesdays: Aug. 15, Aug. 22, Aug. 29 and Sept. 5.

Taco Bell said the DoorDash offer aims to "support and spotlight restaurants who now have the right to freely use Taco Tuesday." Greg Gregory, owner of Gregory's Bar, sees the promotion differently.

"That's obviously a ploy to make us look bad," Gregory said. 

"You know, they're allowed to give away free tacos. They're just not allowed to say 'Taco Tuesday.' So what they're doing is, they're actually using this as a way to further expand the notoriety of the phrase 'Taco Tuesday.' So that bolsters their case of saying it's part of the everyday lexicon. So it's all just a ploy. It's all lawyers and big business. And, you know, it's just big business squashing the little guy. That's what they're doing."

Gregory's will be hosting a Taco Tuesday promotion of its own on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Anyone that buys a basket of tacos will receive an extra taco. So instead of getting two tacos for $3.50, people will get three.  

"So all of New Jersey, come on down to Somers Point," Gregory said. 

Gregory's Bar first used the phrase Taco Tuesday in 1979 when it began serving tacos solely on Tuesdays. The idea for the weekly special came while Gregory was working at a Center City bar – before he had taken over Gregory's Bar from his father. He said he had walked to the Gallery for food research and noticed long lines of people waiting to order tacos.

Though Gregory does not enjoy tacos himself, he thought they might be popular with the customer base at his family's business — a hunch that proved correct. He decided the bar should serve them on Tuesdays to compete with deals at a nearby Somers Point bar, and Gregory felt Taco Tuesday had a "nice ring to it."

gregory's taco tuesday signFranki Rudnesky/PhillyVoice

A sign outside Gregory's Bar in Somers Point notes that the restaurant is the 'home of the original Taco Tuesday.'

He estimated his restaurant has served more than 2 million tacos through the years. The recipe has stayed the same since the late '70s, and the salsa recipe hasn't changed since it was found in a 1978 Playboy magazine.

One of Gregory's college professors suggested he trademark the phrase and did the legwork to get it approved. In 1982, Gregory's was granted a federal registration for the Taco Tuesday trademark, meaning no other company in the U.S. could legally use it. 

But the family-run business failed to renew the trademark properly and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled it. That allowed Taco John's in 1989 to swoop in and trademark the phrase everywhere in the U.S. except for New Jersey. Gregory's held on to the trademark in New Jersey after some legal proceedings.

The most recent Taco Tuesday scuffle took off in May, when Taco Bell filed legal petitions with the patent office to cancel the decades-old federal trademark registrations for Taco Tuesday. The fast-food giant insisted it did not want the trademark for itself, but wanted to free the phrase for all restaurants to use. The petitions sought to cancel the existing trademarks held by Taco John's and Gregory's.

Along with Taco Bell's petitions, the battle devolved into cheeky marketing jabs, including a Taco Bell ad starring LeBron James, who unsuccessfully had attempted to claim the trademark for himself in 2019.

Last month, Taco John's abandoned its trademark so that Taco Bell and other businesses could use the phrase freely in 49 states. Taco John's said it opted not to spend the money that a legal battle against Taco Bell would require.

When it gave up its trademark, Taco John's made a $40,000 donation to the Children of Restaurant Employees nonprofit, which provides financial relief to struggling restaurant workers with children. Taco Bell said it has matched that donation.

For his part, Gregory said the Taco Tuesday events at Gregory's Restaurant and Bar often raise money for local charities. Despite Taco John's choice not to go to court, Gregory said he hopes to hold onto his business's trademark as long as possible and will fight the "David versus Goliath" battle as long as it's "financially feasible."

"When Taco John's surrendered, then I was all by myself, you know, just us against Taco Bell," Gregory said. "And now Taco Bell coming out with this, free tacos for everywhere but New Jersey. It feels like it's not David and Goliath; now it feels like I'm Davy Crockett at the Alamo. You know what I mean? I'm starting to really feel like I'm being surrounded. ... It's just not fair." 

Gregory said Taco Bell CEO Mark King recently called him and requested that he surrender his trademark in exchange for a featured spot in Taco Bell ads. Gregory declined.

"Does that sound like a good deal to anybody? Definitely not to me," Gregory said. "Like I really care that in Tacoma, Washington I'm in a Taco Bell ad? Is that worth trading 44 years of Taco Tuesday? I don't think so."

Somers Point's city council honored Gregory's last month with a resolution recognizing its status as the original home of Taco Tuesday, and its continued fight against large corporations to maintain its trademark. "The Mayor and City Council support Gregory's in their battle to preserve this local tradition," the resolution read. 

gregory's bar somers point resolutionCourtesy of/Greg Gregory

Somers Point City Council honors Gregory's Restaurant & Bar with a resolution recognizing its fight to maintain its Taco Tuesday trademark. Pictured (left to right) Mayor Jack Glasser, Gregory's owner Greg Gregory, Gregory's grandson Jack Gregory and Gregory's cousin Walter Gregory.

Gregory's opened in 1946, and Gregory is a third-generation owner coming from a family of "saloon keepers." His sons mostly run the Somers Point staple now, and his grandchildren work there in the summer, making Gregory's a five-generation family business. 

Gregory's Taco Tuesday fans will have to wait until Sept. 5 to enjoy the restaurant's tacos again, because it takes a hiatus from the weekly special through the summer. But throughout September, Gregory said his Taco Tuesdays will include giveaways and other special promotions.

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