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Thursday, November 14, 2019


By Holden DeMayo, Dining Critic, daily online magazine--We love a good restaurant especially those with a good story and also serve Mexican style burritos as its signature dish.

My first encounter with Illegal Pete’s was last year in Tempe, Arizona when the team I’m on (San Antonio Red Sox) was competing in a national senior baseball tournament (we didn’t do well), but discovering Illegal Pete’s cuisine was worth the trip to the Phoenix area.  Since its founding in 1995 (Boulder CO) there are now a dozen RePete’s in the chain—most in Colorado.

RePete Turner
Westword Photo
Owner Pete Turner II. named his full bar restaurants after his firebrand father, Pete Sr., who in his day was a musician with a taste of the good life.
More on Pete and RePete see below.

Thanks to Pete’s musical roots the Tempe venue hosts live music.

Speaking of singing different tunes, recently, Pete Jr. just won a major lawsuit against naysayers who believed the name was racist.  Courts said the name Illegal Pete was free speech.  Enough said.

Burrito that won the West
We’ll let Illegal Pete’s management tell the lawyer’s side of the story. See Below.  Meanwhile, we’ll stick to the major league margarita’s, Baja fish tacos, quesadillas and burrito’s at Illegal Pete’s, 525 South Mill Avenue in Tempe.   But before you read about the lawsuit See Below for a history of Illegal Pete’s winning of the West.

Downside for me (not others obviously) is having to order from a counter instead of a wait staff but nobody asked me.  Yes, it’s a management trend to cut costs but frankly the no-waiter concept reeks of “fast food.”  Give me Casa Guadalajara in San Diego’s Old Town any time for the vibe that real waiters bring to the dining experience.   Click here.

But when in Tempe, Illegal Pete’s will do just fine.

Tempe location indoors
Illegal Pete's Origin Story
Pete Turner II loves burritos. In 1995, Pete opened up shop in a 600-square-foot space on University Hill, to serve the hungry college town of Boulder, Colorado.

He named his shop Illegal Pete's, after his beacon of moral support: his father, Pete Turner Senior, who was terminally ill with cancer and passed away in 1997. Pete Sr. co-signed the loan, and was his daily source of calm and confidence in opening and running the restaurant. He was also the name and spirit behind Illegal Pete's.

"Growing up hearing stories of my dad's good-natured hell-raising romanced and inspired me, and might have gotten me into some trouble as a younger man," says Turner. "It was his rock'n roll-ish boundary-pushing that inspired the name Illegal Pete's, and is an attitude we seek to live out in the restaurant. My dad loved the name. He lives in every Illegal Pete's in a series of paintings that include his birthday, 3-31-40."

Today, Pete's formula - fast, healthy food + a vibrant cultural atmosphere - remains at the core of the Illegal Pete's experience. Even 23 years after its humble beginnings, half of Pete Turner's lifetime, since Illegal Pete's has blossomed into eleven extraordinary locations across Colorado and now Tucson and Tempe, Arizona.

At Illegal Pete's, it's about meeting customers where their interests lie. This anti-cookie-cutter, ever-changing formula enables that customer-directed sympatico to click. It's the secret behind our customer loyalty.

After Delaware Secretary of State refused to incorporate Illegal Pete's based on their name, the company sued for First Amendment infringement
The Delaware Secretary of State settled the lawsuit out of court, paying for the restaurant's legal fees and changing their naming guidelines for corporate entities.  Here’s what they went through.  Read below:

Quesadilla con Salsa y Guacamole
By Erin Barnes--Denver, CO (October 30, 2019) - The State of Delaware has settled the First Amendment court case against them made by Colorado-based restaurant group Illegal Pete's, reversing their previous decision not to allow the company to incorporate in their state based on their name. In doing so, Delaware has agreed to pay for the restaurant's legal fees and change their corporate naming guidelines to better honor the First Amendment.

"This was an interesting linear elevation of the 'Illegal' word issue we first encountered in 2014," says Illegal Pete's founder and president, Pete Turner. "We took this debate to the courts, suing the State of Delaware for First Amendment infringement, and winning; we see this as vindication of our position."

In early 2019, the State of Delaware refused to incorporate Illegal Pete's, claiming the name had "a negative connotation" and "might cause harm to the interests of the public or the state." Illegal Pete's issued a statement refuting any racial or immigration-related connotations, explaining that the company was named after Pete Turner Senior, the founder's father who was "a bit of a good-natured hell-raiser in his day."

The Associated Press' coverage of the news included a list of business entities that were somewhat ironically deemed acceptable by the Delaware officials, including "Illegal Civilization Inc.," "Illegal People Touring Inc.," "Hot Asian Buns LLC," "Crabby Dick's Delaware Inc.," "Killer Beverages LLC," "Murder on the Menu Inc" and even "Dickshark, LLC." The reason for the sudden stringent attitude towards Illegal Pete's, the company theorized, was the incorrect assumption that the name was racially-charged.

"In our current political times, divided and filled with racial tension, our name has been unwittingly rolled into a larger conversation about race, the United States, who belongs here and if a human being should ever be referred to as 'illegal,'" reads the statement. "The word 'illegal' in our name is a reference to the countercultural, to the rebellious, to the very picture of challenging authority that the restaurants were founded upon. It's in this spirit that we challenge the decision made by Delaware officials."

The court settlement announcement hit the presses in August of 2019, but Illegal Pete's has waited to make their announcement until final receipt of the cash settlement.

After a long and hard battle to incorporate in Delaware, Turner is announcing his decision to remain a Colorado-based entity instead, incorporating in the company's home state. Illegal Pete's is in the process of re-registering in Colorado, which will be complete by end of year.

"This was a reminder that Illegal Pete's always has been and always will be a Colorado company," says Turner. "Even as we continue to grow out of state, with two locations in Arizona and even more out-of-state locations planned in the future, we'll always call Colorado home...except when they're in Arizona."

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