By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The attorney defending a Mexican restaurant owner against allegations of trademark violation by a Cheyenne-based fast food chain argued in new court filings that Taco John’s is a “corporate bully” that is unafraid to appropriate Mexican culture.
In April, Cheyenne-based Taco John’s International, Inc. and Spicy Seasonings LLC sued Minnesota-based Mexican restaurant Taco Chon, accusing owner Juan Ramos of infringing on Taco John’s trademark of its name.
Both restaurants filed summaries of their cases and positions in U.S. District Court in Minnesota on June 8, with Ramos’ attorney detailing the restaurant owner’s struggle to come to America and make his dream come true.
The attorney detailed Ramos’ childhood in Jalisco, Mexico, when he helped his parents with a food cart that they ran in the 1980s.
He saw them struggling financially and wanted to do anything he could to support them.
“Similar to the famous scene in ‘My Cousin Vinny…’ ‘No self-respecting Southerner would ever eat instant grits,’ the true Mexican taco consumer knows that a good taco is the marriage of the perfect meat and the perfect salsa made from scratch,” Ramos’ attorney wrote.
“Ramos vowed and became driven holding his promise to his mother that he would one day have a Mexican grill restaurant in the United States named ‘Taco Chon’ and that she would never be short on money for groceries ever again,” he said.
Taco John’s attorneys argued that the use of the name “Taco Chon” by Ramos dilutes the capacity of the Taco John’s trademark to distinguish the goods and services of its restaurants, regardless of competition.
There are 57 Taco John’s restaurants in Minnesota.
Taco John’s attorneys also said that the two restaurants were similar, a claim Ramos’ attorney heavily contested.
Ramos’ attorney argued the name of his client’s restaurant is taken from a nickname given to his father, “Don Chon,” as he would dress up as a character of the same name from a popular 1970s Mexican TV series, “Los Polivoces.”
The Taco Chon attorneys said that fast food restaurant Taco John’s could not come up with sufficient evidence to show that it has been confused with the full-service Mexican restaurant.
“Taco Chon Mexican Grill is no ‘junior user’ of any [trademark] as Ramos’ family were occupants of the Mexican culture long before Taco John’s landed on Wyoming rock,” Ramos’ attorney said.
Taco John’s accused Ramos of opening two quick-service Mexican cuisine restaurants similar to Taco John’s under the name “Taco Chon” within 5 miles of Taco John’s restaurants in Minnesota, which is “likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception.”
Taco Chon has locations in St. Cloud, Minnesota, which is just over 1 mile away from a Taco John’s, and Burnsville, Minnesota, which is 4 miles away from a Taco John’s franchise.
Ramos’ attorney argued that Taco John’s “West Mex” could never be confused for authentic Mexican cuisine, which is what Ramos serves at his restaurants. He added that Taco Chon was not a fast food restaurant like Taco John’s, but a Mexican grill that offers sit-down dining and alcoholic beverages.
Ramos’ attorney asked for damages from Taco John’s in a sum of at least $150,000 to compensate Ramos for all monetary and/or economic harm, along with non-monetary harm, resulting from the lawsuit, citing Ramos’ depression and anxiety stemming from the case.
Taco John’s is no stranger to filing lawsuits to protect its trademarks.
The company has sent “cease and desist” letters to other restaurants over their use of the slogan “Taco Tuesday,” which it trademarked in 1989.
In 2006, Taco John International sued Taco Del Mar, alleging one of its restaurants in Colorado used the slogan to advertise its Tuesday specials.
The lawsuit was dismissed at the request of all parties three months after it was filed.