Taco John's restaurant in Cheyenne, Wyoming in July 2013.
|Founded||March 14, 1969Cheyenne, Wyoming as the Taco Housein|
|Headquarters||Cheyenne, Wyoming, U.S.|
|James Woodson and Harold W. Holmes|
|Products||Mexican inspired cuisine|
Taco John's is a Cheyenne, Wyoming-based fast-food restaurant featuring Mexican-inspired fast food (which it calls "West-Mex"). The chain was founded in 1969 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and now comprises more than 380 restaurants in about 27 states. Potato Olés are the company's signature dish, which are bite-sized deep-fried potato nuggets coated with a proprietary blend of spices and seasonings. As of 2013, the restaurant chain had 425 locations in the United States.
Taco John's began as a small taco stand in Cheyenne, Wyoming, named "Taco House" that opened in 1968. John Turner started the Taco House restaurant in March 14, 1969, after being stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne and serving in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. He sold the franchise rights to James Woodson and Harold W. Holmes, who in 1969 changed the name to Taco John's.
Born in 1919 in Chariton, Iowa, Holmes's first job was as an auctioneer. He and his wife, the former Nona Zimmerman, later operated a furniture store in Cheyenne and also owned Holmes Camper Exchange, which manufactured campers and travel trailers under the name of "Holmes on Wheels," and Holmes Equipment and Supplies, which produced stainless steel restaurant equipment nationwide until 2013.
James Woodson, born June 9, 1921 in Cheyenne, was also an entrepreneur who had owned a cab company and then Woodson Realty. Holmes and Woodson together created Woodson-Holmes Enterprises, which acquired the restaurant franchise rights from Turner. The name was changed to Taco John's in recognition of Turner and the company name became Taco John’s International, Inc. Holmes, who was also a pilot, died in 2012 of heart complications at the age of 92 in a hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. Woodson died at the age of 87 in 2008 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
While Taco John's targeted smaller Midwestern and Western communities in its early years, the chain has recently begun to open in larger metropolitan areas like Denver and Kansas City, where they've had a minor presence since the 1980s. Taco John's also operates several outlets serving the U.S. Armed Forces through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). Taco Bell declined to participate.
In April 2016, the company announced a deal to open 40 new stores in New York and Tennessee. The deal includes 20 stores in the New York City area and the Northeast with an option for 15 more stores.
As of October 2016, the company had 390 restaurants spread throughout Wyoming and 24 other states.
Taco John's has adopted and trademarked the term "West-Mex" to describe their food and service attitude. The company defines "West-Mex" food as having fresh, bold flavors, including their signature "Potato Olés", sauces, spices, and salsas.
Taco John's early mascot, depicted on their street signage above the words "The Hottest Spot In Town," was a devil character. Later mascots were versions of a cartoonish, perhaps stereotypical, Mexican character named Juan with a giant sombrero and a donkey named Pépé. That figure was replaced in the mid-1990s by a more modern, artistic image.
Taco John's recent advertising icons have included Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey, a popular rodeo attraction and PRCA Entertainer of the Year, who rides on his dog Ben to the rescue of hungry taco lovers.
Punk band In Defence performed their song "Call More Dudes" in a Taco John's as part of a tribute to the franchise.
In the 1990s, Taco John's slogan was "A Whole Lotta Mexican," which accompanied a jingle that stated "Once we getcha, then we gotcha.... gotcha coming back for more! Taco John's."
2006 E. coli outbreak
In December 2006, a reported 50 people became sick and 18 people were hospitalized after eating at a Taco John's restaurant in Iowa. Shortly after that, Minnesota health officials reported that an additional 27 people became ill after eating at Taco John's restaurants in Rio Grande City, Texas and Grand Forks, North Dakota. On December 14, Black Hawk County, Iowa health officials stated that lettuce tainted with E. coli had been discovered in the supply chain. That same day, a Cedar Falls couple filed a lawsuit against Taco John's after their 9-year-old daughter was hospitalized for symptoms of E. coli. Taco John's dropped its produce supplier, Bix Produce of Grand Forks, North Dakota, as a result of the outbreaks. After a thorough investigation by the Minnesota Department of Health and the FDA, Bix Produce was cleared of any wrongdoing in the matter. The source of the outbreak was traced back to the growing fields in California. This incident came about at the same time as an unrelated E. coli outbreak at Taco Bell restaurants in the midwestern United States.
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Early History: From Taco Stand to Taco John's Chain. The sprawling restaurant chain dubbed Taco John's was born as a single, tiny taco stand. The "Taco House" as it was called, opened in 1968 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was started by a ...
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- FDA says E. coli strain traced to California dairy farms