The Boulder-based restaurant Illegal Pete’s has come under fire recently because of its controversial name. In late October, with only a few weeks until the grand opening of Pete’s new Fort Collins location, residents of the area demanded the restaurant change its name, claiming the moniker was offensive to immigrants and the Latino community.
The restaurant has been serving oversized burritos and Mexican style food in Boulder for 20 years, its original location nestled on Boulder’s University Hill. Pete’s has since expanded to six locations across Boulder and Denver, but the chain has hit some hurdles with opening its seventh.
Last month, Illegal Pete’s looming opening in Fort Collins was met with resistance from a group called “We Are Not Illegal.” The group considered the word “illegal,” in conjunction with a Mexican restaurant, to be disrespectful to Mexican-Americans, and called for the owner, Pete Turner, to change the name of his company before opening.
Two weeks ago, Turner met with the concerned residents to discuss the contention of the name. Community members, students and professors, including Fort Collins immigration attorney and meeting moderator Kim Medina, attended the meeting.
“Social context is hugely important,” Medina said at the meeting, according to the Coloradoan. “We’ll never get to big issues such as immigration reform until we can solve these smaller issues of language.”
Despite pressures from the community, Turner announced in a lengthy statement released on the Illegal Pete’s website that he will not be changing the name of the restaurant.
Turner describes the origin of the company’s name, explaining that it has importance to his own name as well as his father’s. He also referred to his restaurant’s brand as “counter-cultural.”
“It’s typically the counter-cultural places in our society that are the most accepting of individuals from all different walks of life,” Turner said.
Cassandra Duchan, a junior at CU, said she understands the implications the name may have when used in connection to a Mexican restaurant, but she doesn’t believe there was any malicious intent from Turner.
“I never thought of it, or interpreted it, that way,” Duchan said. “Pete isn’t a Spanish name nor is he Mexican, so I don’t believe the title was intended to offend.”
When asked if Turner should change the name, senior CU student Ileen Den Ouden said he was opposed.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Ileen said. “It’s an inventive name, there’s no bad intention connected to it.”
Despite sympathy in Boulder, “We Are Not Illegal” disagrees. In a press release responding to Turner’s decision, the group maintains that regardless of Turner’s intention for the name and the restaurant’s history, the word still has a harmful impact.
Illegal Pete’s new Fort Collins location is set to open this Thursday, Nov. 13.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Bethlehem Feleke at email@example.com