Gregory told me this week that his family’s business, founded by his grandfather “Pop” Walter in 1946, was inherited by him long ago. He asked me over the phone how his first Taco Bell bid to “liberate” the phrase from the Taco Bell conversation that has been edited for clarity and length more than 40 years ago came about. He also mentioned the unique building made of salvaged wood that his grandfather created along the Jersey Shore.
Aymann Ismail: Can you simply explain to me the moment that resulted in the idea of Taco Tuesday at Gregory’s?
In 1978, while running a family business at a restaurant bar in Atlantic City, New Jersey, I and my partner, Gregory Walter, along with our wives, decided to try some Mexican food. We went to a Mexican restaurant near the Atlantic City boardwalk, but there was nobody there except for us. We didn’t even know what to order, so we asked the lady who was taking our order to recommend something. She suggested we try the tacos, so we decided to give them a shot. After taking a bite, we all agreed that the food was horrible and we would never eat there again. A few days later, I saw a place called T-A-C-O in a shopping mall in Philadelphia. There was a long line of people waiting to order, and everyone seemed to be enjoying their food. Curious to see what all the fuss was about, I decided to go down to the food court and try some.
On Tuesday, we will call it ‘Taco Tuesday’ and say, “Yeah,” and before the night is over, we want to go out and do it. So, if you want to do it when they do it, let me know. “Well,” I said, “And” the bar down the street has ‘Wednesday Drown and Drink.’ “Well,” I said, “If you want to do it, let me know.” “Well,” I said, “And.”
It was quite astonishing that we sold out on the third week. We sold 30 orders in the second week. We sold 15 tacos, and in February of 1979, on the first Tuesday night, we started it.
What was inside the taco?
We have sold over 2 million tacos on Taco Tuesday in the past 44 years. That’s the basic taco. We still use the recipe for the salsa. The salsa recipe we use now is from Playboy, and we buy fresh cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and ground beef with taco seasoning from our food supplier.
When do you decide, “We need to register this as a trademark?”
We were awarded a trademark in 1982 and he did all the legwork. He found a lawyer, signed the papers, and I gave him a check. Here, I signed the check and gave it to him. Two weeks later, he came back and I didn’t hear anything. He asked how I was doing with the trademark and a couple of months later, he came back and said everything was going well. “Oh,” I said, “you got the trademark.” “You’re crazy,” I said, as two people came in and two people went out. We were just starting the casinos here and I was speaking as a public professor from college. It was about a year into the Taco Tuesday in ’79.
And then Taco John’s came in and dominated.
“We have decided against expanding as we will focus solely on New Jersey. You can have the remaining areas,” mentioned “We reached an agreement and, following extensive legal consultation, we decided not to pursue national endeavors due to our small, family-owned business. We also refrained from advertising outside of New Jersey. This occurred in 1989.”
It is like depriving the world of sunshine, anyone who provides tacos to the world, whether it be Taco Bell or anyone saying ‘Taco Tuesday,’ is critical to everyone’s Tuesday. They wrote, “Taco Bell believes that Tuesday is a critical day to ‘liberate’ tacos.” Right? They’re trying to say that they’re trying to “liberate” Taco Tuesday and I was reading the argument of Taco Bell, so I was okay.
In 1982, we were at the original home of Tuesday Taco, which is now a bar in San Diego, California. It was a guy from around here who opened his own bar and named it “Tuesday Taco”. There is no doubt that it took off and became a popular spot. Just the other night, I walked into the bar and saw a sign that said “Tuesday Taco”. I yelled out, “Hey Gregory, what’s up?”
If you’re solely focused on New Jersey, can you clarify how it negatively impacts your business if someone in San Diego, for instance, is promoting Taco Tuesday?
It is important for us to know what you mean when you say that Tuesday Taco is the biggest day of the week for you because I had to write a check when my payday was set, which upset my cashflow. So, I use Tuesday Taco to finalize my employees’ pay before payday. Do you know what Tuesday Taco is? But what about it? If John wants to let them have it, then let them have it.
Do you truly believe that Taco Bell will attract your customers if they begin referring to their Tuesdays as “Taco Tuesday”?
I’m concerned about a little frog in a big pond, just south of Jersey in South Jersey. I’m not worried about the phrase liberating for the rest of humanity. I’m worried about my business. I’m worried about the street down the bar where I had already told two or three times that I would get triple damages before they stopped using it. I’m not worried about Taco Bell.
What crossed your thoughts when LeBron James became engaged?
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I can always find a spot for a guy to make a couple of bucks, he’s not working now so he wants to come down and sling some tacos. They got swept while that was happening. Did he spend more time dribbling the basketball than he did? What do you know?
I’ve heard you refer to this as a David-versus-Goliath tale, as if you’re going head-to-head with Taco Bell.
Float that accomplishes? Correct? King’s Burger, let’s utilize it to produce hamburgers for the national word ‘Whopper’. “OK, they should say ‘Whopper’,” I don’t think I should call my hamburger that, I haven’t been paying fair fees to have my trademark. It just doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to sound like a big business guy who has been chosen by a little guy. I’m just a little guy.
Do you still feel the need to defend yourself? Do you think it’s a risk? What’s the latest with the right trademark now?
We’re currently investigating whether we should revert back to the original phrase coined by the guy who initially came up with it. It’s been a while since they took it from us, so we’re looking into seeing if we should still defend John’s Taco and let it have its rightful place.
If you could sit down with the head of Taco Bell, what would you tell them? What solution do you think looks reasonable?
I am aware that I would express my thoughts. I would express my thoughts. Therefore, I am uncertain about what I would articulate, to be honest. They are too immense to collapse. Yum Brands is a colossal entity. Because one would not attain the position of leading a massive corporation like that without being intelligent, the leader of Taco Bell is likely an exceptional individual. Goodness, I am unsure.
In order to preserve it, we would prefer to keep ourselves and our loved ones close to something that has been going on for over 40 years. On Tuesday nights, we have received countless benefits from Taco Tuesday, and we have tried all kinds of tacos on our Taco Tuesday boat. We have been doing well in our restaurant and bar, and if you want me to tell you, I don’t even know. We’re just sorry that it has come this far. It is no longer feasible to continue going on until we protect our brand.