Patios are springing up all over Colorado as restaurants try to grab some extra social distancing space to help them maintain public safety while they're ordered to hold customer totals to no more than 50 percent capacity (or fifty people, whichever number is lower). Some local eateries were already blessed with perfect patios, though.
One of the best is at the Illegal Pete's at 270 South Broadway, which will be the first outpost in the homegrown chain to reopen, on June 18, which just happens to be the birthday of founder Pete Turner. The patio is capacious enough that Turner says this spot isn't going to offer indoor dining at all, just outdoor seating and to-go.
Oh, and delivery: Illegal Pete's will be taking advantage of the opportunity to include liquor in those pick-up and delivery orders, and is even setting up its own delivery service. "That's a big challenge," Turner admits. "It was a lot of work figuring that out."
Illegal Pete's, a homegrown chain that will celebrate its 25th anniversary in August, did not reopen for any to-go service after the city and state ordered all eateries closed on March 17; Turner says he wanted to focus on health — both physical and economical — for his crew and customers. He'll continue to emphasize that as the other Illegal Pete's spots reopen in phases. "It's really easy to be complacent," he says. "We went hard on safety."
And Illegal Pete's also took its time, letting others trailblaze and determine the best way to approach reopening while Turner worked with banks and landlords to make sure the company would be on solid ground. "I have a little built of guilt," Turner admits. "It's a new world, and it really forces us to think about new practices."
But taking his time paid off: At the Illegal Pete's on South Broadway, 95 percent of the employees who were furloughed will be coming back. "We're super-excited," Turner says.
During the second phase, which starts June 29, the Illegal Pete's spots at 1851 West 38th Avenue and 2001 East Colfax Avenue — both of which have great patios — will reopen, as will the 1744 East Evans store, which just got a new mural, and the outpost in Fort Collins. They'll be followed on July 6 by the two Boulder locations, the Denver Tech Center spot and the popular 16th Street Mall space. Two Arizona stores will open in August.
About that 16th Street Mall location: After twenty years, in December it will leave its spot at 1530 16th Street in the Sugar Building and move a few hundred feet away, into the former home of Lucky Pie, in the old Morey Mercantile at 1610 16th Street. "We're stoked," says Turner. "We need way more space there."
They'll get it, too, with big patios that surround the corner spot and a second room that can be designed for concerts (when those are allowed) or other special events.
Additional Illegal Pete's locations are still in the works, too. The Park Hill location at 2230 Oneida Street was supposed to open this week, but the pandemic took its toll on that schedule. "It's basically ready to go," says Turner, who's now looking at an opening in late July. And a spot on West Colfax Avenue, right by the Little Man Ice Cream Factory, is in the planning stages.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
But right now, Turner is focused on getting the current locations reopened, and also retooling plans for the 25th-anniversary celebration, many of which will be pushed to next year. A Labor Day block party is no longer on the books, and Refresh, an art project that had been slated to be announced March 21, is also being refreshed. Still, the commitment to an art project at each location remains.
Turner opened his first location in Boulder on August 15, 1995, and "we had a really fun, really interesting plan of multiple things we were doing this year," he recalls. But then came this "weird year," which included a fight with the Delaware Secretary of State over the name of the restaurant. It was made weirder by the fact that Turner is about to turn 49, the same age at which his late father, the restaurants' namesake, was diagnosed with cancer.
That, coupled with the pandemic, had Turner "reckoning with mortality." And really thinking about what works at his restaurants, both for employees and fans.
"We're going back to the basics," he promises. "I just can't wait to see people."