It’s the most Melbourne of Mexican stand-offs – a food-court chain staring down a punk rock pub over its temerity to hold a Taco Tuesday.
A stone’s throw into the city’s wild west sits Footscray’s Reverence Hotel, famed for its live music and cheap Tuesday tacos.
After six years of dishing up the spicy fare, the landmark corner hotel is suddenly feeling the heat over a claim that it is infringing a trademark held by Mexican food chain Salsas Fresh Mex, which has outlets dotted across Melbourne including a site at Highpoint shopping centre.
A letter from Salsas Holdings marketing manager Rebecca Woods to The Reverence Hotel demanded it stop using the phrase ”Taco Tuesday” on its website and social media accounts.
“We assume that you are unaware that Salsas is the owner of the registered trade mark TACO TUESDAY in respect to the provision of Mexican-style food and restaurant services,” it states.
“The Mexican-style food offered by Salsas under that trademark has become extremely well and favourably known among members of the public in Australia, and as a result is associated with Salsas.”
The letter requests the hotel “immediately cease” referring to Taco Tuesday.
Publican Matt Bodiam said his first reaction on opening the letter on Wednesday was amusement, but he soon realised the potential seriousness.
“I had a bit of a giggle, then [thought] I better look into it,” he said.
“I can’t believe someone can trademark ‘Taco Tuesday’; it would be like trademarking ‘Happy Hour’ or ‘Tight-Arse Tuesday’, although perhaps someone has trademarked those as well.”
Mr Bodiam said the pub had been serving up cheap tacos and beer every Tuesday night since he and his partner Melanie took it over in 2012, as a way to “bring some life” to a traditionally quiet night of the week.
While Mr Bodiam could initially see the funny side of the situation, he is concerned about what might happen next.
“It’s not the kind of letter you want to receive about something you have been doing for the past six years, someone saying you can’t do it any more,” he said.
“’Taco Tuesday’ is something we all had in our childhood; it’s like fish and chip Friday – it belongs to everyone.”
Mr Bodiam questioned how anyone could confuse his pub and the Salsas chain.
“We are a band venue that offers Mexican-style food; they are a large food court business. I don’t think we really have any kind of crossover.”
A similar war has been waged in the United States, where the Taco John’s chain has held and defended the trademark for Taco Tuesday since 1989.
A Salsas Fresh Mex spokeswoman said that as a franchisor, the company provided support to its network, including the defence of trademarks.
“The term ‘Taco Tuesday’ was trademarked by Salsas Fresh Mex in 2011 and has since been used extensively across the brand’s marketing and promotional efforts,” she said.
“Legally we must defend this against companies both big and small. We believe it is our responsibility to inform all businesses of our trademark ownership to best protect the interests of our small business owners.”
The spokeswoman did not say whether or not the company had sent similar letters to other Melbourne pubs and eateries that hold their own Taco Tuesday.
The move has sparked a swift backlash on the company’s Facebook page.
Mark Davison, of Monash University’s law department, said people might be surprised that a company could trademark such a common phrase, but Salsas appeared within its rights to do so.
“The trademark office has determined that ‘Taco Tuesday’ constitutes an intrinsically distinguishable trademark,” he said.
Associate Professor Davison said the question of whether The Reverence was violating the trademark came down to whether the hotel was using ”Taco Tuesday” as though it was its own trademark, or simply to describe a service.
Mr Bodiam said The Reverence would continue selling tacos on Tuesdays, but the night is now listed on its site as “Taco Sueday”.
The stoush comes just a week after another Footscray food favourite, the Leeds Street footpath traders, were given their marching orders by Maribyrnong Council or risk $500 fines.