CHEYENNE – Owners of a Cheyenne-based fast-food restaurant chain are celebrating 50 years of offering their trademark “West-Mex”-style food this month.
During those five decades, Taco John’s has expanded to more than half the country. But the company’s current leader says its Wyoming roots remain strong.
John Turner founded Taco John’s with the assistance of Cheyenne real-estate broker James Woodson and travel trailer manufacturer Harold Holmes in the summer of 1968. Holmes converted one of his campers into a food trailer called Taco House to serve Cheyenne Frontier Days visitors that year.
“Holmes was able to build that trailer and get it on the lot where our Carey Avenue store stands today,” Taco John’s President and CEO Jim Creel said during an interview this week.
The endeavor was successful enough that Woodson and Holmes bought the franchise rights in 1969, ultimately honoring Turner with the name Taco John’s.
Now, there are nearly 400 Taco John’s restaurant in 26 states. Operators even trademarked the widely celebrated Taco Tuesday in 1989.
Before he was promoted to CEO in 2016, Creel provided consulting services for Taco John’s during his time with McGladrey (now MHP, LLP). He then served as vice president and chief financial officer.
“One day (former CEO) Barry Sims asked if I had considered leaving public accounting, and I said, ‘Not really,’” Creel said. “I told him to make me an offer, and he said I didn’t have to wear a tie. The rest is history.”
Creel was born and raised in Casper, attending Natrona County High and the University of Wyoming, but he had ties to Cheyenne before he moved in the 1980s.
“My father was killed during a CFD chariot race in 1969,” he said. “I was 10 years old at the time, and, after, had a variety of jobs – scraping grease off oil rigs, building bicycles at Sears and selling truck parts at Casper Truck Center during college. I had a little experience in a lot of things growing up.”
He and his wife, Brenda, have lived in Cheyenne since. They have two sons and two grandchildren.
Although he plans to help the company continue to expand, Creel said Taco John’s will stay local and support Cheyenne causes. This includes the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Grace For 2 Brothers, Climb Wyoming and Black Dog Animal Rescue.
“We still believe in Wyoming and are proud to have the company headquartered here,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize that Taco John’s is located in Cheyenne; I think it’s a best-kept secret to have a franchise organization this large here.”
The company employs roughly 250 people locally.
To celebrate 50 years in business, new menu options will be introduced soon, including a larger burrito with rice and beans and enchiladas for dinner.
“We’re also going to scrape and rebuild our South Greeley Highway store here and introduce our first food truck,” Creel said, adding the company plans to roll out a rebrand initiative with new packaging, logos and designs.
“I hope Taco John’s stays the family-oriented company it’s always been,” he said. “But I also hope we continue to expand throughout the rest of the country. I’d like to see us get to all 50 states.”
Correction: The original version of this story referred to the company's trademark "Tex-Mex," rather than "West-Mex." The mistake was due to editor error.