As lovers of Mexican food celebrate National Taco Day on October 4th, it seems an appropriate time to delve into the papers of Taco John’s International. The American Heritage Center has collaborated with Taco John’s to preserve their corporate history since 2004. The origin story of Taco John’s dates back to 1968, when John Turner opened his “Taco House”, a humble stand selling five tacos for a dollar to budget conscious Cheyenne diners. While Mexican food was a rarity in Wyoming, Turner’s “Taco House” soon had an appreciative customer base. Cheyenne businessmen Jim Woodson and Harold Holmes approached Turner about franchising the business, and Turner agreed to sell the rights to them for $10,000. Woodson and Holmes lacked experience in the restaurant industry, but that didn’t stop them from building a quickly expanding franchise business. They named their restaurant chain Taco John’s.
The first one hundred restaurants were prefabricated modular buildings of plywood and aluminum constructed in Cheyenne and trucked to places like Rapid City, Scottsbluff and Torrington. None of them had seating for customers, who all got their food “to-go”. John Turner provided the restaurants with tortillas and his proprietary blend of seasonings and spices. The company’s original logo was a fiendish devil proclaiming Taco John’s as the “Hottest Spot in Town.”
The success of the concept exceeded Harold Holmes and Jim Woodson’s expectations. Holmes was a private pilot and he and Woodson often traveled by small aircraft, approving sites for new restaurants and assisting franchisees in their openings. They found hundreds of individuals located in smaller cities in the West and Midwest with an entrepreneurial spirit who wanted the chance to own a quick-service restaurant. Restaurant design evolved to include seating and drive-throughs. Innovative products were added to the menu, like the Potato Olés and the Taco Bravo. The company coined the phrase “West-Mex” and trademarked “Taco Tuesday”.
Eventually, expansion put the chain in 22 states with nearly 400 locations. The company is still headquartered in Cheyenne and unlike their competitors, remains privately owned. Today, Taco John’s serves its namesake tacos, alongside burritos, quesadillas, nachos and breakfast items. It continues to be known for bold flavors, fresh ingredients and friendly customer service. Sixty-five percent of the business is drive-through, a factor that has helped the company manage through the challenging times of COVID-19.
You can learn more about the history of Taco John’s and whet your appetite for a taco or two in the Taco John’s International papers at UW’s American Heritage Center.
Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.