Cafe Society

Gustavo Arellano Is Okay With the Illegal Pete's Name -- But Why the Mission-Style Burritos?

Pete Turner delivered the word last Wednesday -- with a very lengthy explanation on his website. When his seventh store opens in Fort Collins tomorrow, it will be named Illegal Pete's -- just as his original store was when he opened it on the Hill in Boulder almost twenty years ago, and despite the requests of some Fort Collins activists who'd asked him to change the name because the word "illegal" has racist connotations and argue it's "as offensive as 'Redskins' and 'Marco Rubio,'" says Gustavo Arellano, the author of Ask a Mexican, who weighed in on the controversy yesterday. See also: Pete Turner on Illegal Pete's, Community, the Fort Collins Controversy and Pete's Kitchen "At this point, you're probably tired of hearing about the Illegal Pete's name controversy," Turner added on his blog two days later, "But we have something to say real quick. We are so thankful for all the support we've gotten from people across the country. But we also respect the voices of those who have differing opinions than we do. We respect all types of people and all feelings as valid; and we hope all parties will avoid adding hostility to the discussion. We can disagree, but let's not be turds about it. Okay? This kind of conversation's what makes a nation great. That, and burritos."

And his crew is making a lot of them as they train at the new store at 320 Walnut Street in Fort Collins; they delivered 300 burritos to Colorado State University last Friday, have been catering at local breweries and fed the entire Illegal Pete's staff over the weekend, all in preparation for the location's grand opening on Thursday, November 13.

And there won't be any time to rest after that: At the end of the month, Illegal Pete's will leave that first location in Boulder and move to a bigger spot just around the corner. The final inspections are set for November 24, "and we're trying to do a seamless switch," Turner says.

The opening of his first out-of-state store may not be as seamless: Turner is on target to unveil an Illegal Pete's in Tucson next August -- and the Fort Collins protesters have already said they plan to take their protest of the "illegal" name there.

The controversy focused national attention on Illegal Pete's; our favorite take comes from Gustavo Arellano, who posted this on

Illegal Pete's has been selling burritos in Colorado for 19 years, starting in Boulder and moving on to Denver, part of the city's bizarre embrace of San Francisco's Mission-style burritos (as evidenced by the success of the Chipotle and Qdoba chains, both of which started in the Mile High City) at the expense of Den-Mex's smothered-burrito and breakfast burrito traditions. I ate once at Illegal Pete's (I'm a Chubbys and Santiago's man myself) and remember being struck by its name, but not disturbed; I just figured it was a callback to some frontier days-heritage bullshit that the Rocky Mountains region is still fond of.

In a recent post, owner Pete Turner explained the history of the Illegal Pete's name, even bringing back old logos and marketing campaigns that showed he always leaned more on Sex Pistols and AC/DC iconography for his restaurant instead of Mexican anything. It's still not good enough for activists, who vow to take the campaign to Tucson, where Turner plans to open his next Illegal Pete's. While I sympathize with activists, I still say the bigger scandal is a Colorado guy spreading the gospel of Mission burritos instead of Colorado burritos -- refry that.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun