On the eve of its grand opening, Illegal Pete's flooded by protesters
Editor's Note: Day 2 (Dec. 10) Coverage of Illegal Pete's protest
With protesters outside his restaurant’s front door carrying signs and chanting “Illegal Pete’s, where racists eat,” Pete Turner, the owner of Illegal Pete’s, stood by his establishments name and has no plans to change it.
The protesters gathered on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant today, and plan on staying there until change is here.
“Basically this guy opened up this restaurant knowing and banking on this hateful term for business … banking on this hate,” said James Myers, a UA senior participating in the protest.
In the weeks leading up to the restaurants opening, Tucson community members voiced their reservations. Hearing this, Turner reached out and asked to sit down with those who disagree with his establishment’s name.
“To me, it was a very respectful meeting,” said Turner. “I was given 15 minutes … Then for the next hour we went around the room and talked to people.”
At the end of the meeting, Turner was asked if he would be changing the name. At that point, only eight days out from the grand opening of his restaurant, Turner said he was not able to make the decision just then — he needed to focus on opening the restaurant.
Now, a week later and on the eve of Illegal Pete’s grand opening, Turner is standing by the name.
Protests continue at Illegal Pete's on University Blvd on the eve of their Thursday, December 10th opening. pic.twitter.com/L4V0EtX2jB— Daily Wildcat (@dailywildcat) December 9, 2015
This is not the first time that a community has taken issue with Illegal Pete's. Leading up to the opening of the chain’s Fort Collins, Colorado location, community members brought similar reservations to the company’s attention.
Turner met with the concerned community members in Fort Collins, heard their thoughts, addressed their concerns and ultimately “decided to stay the course at that time” — with no protesters during the opening.
“We respect everyone’s right — we didn’t call the police [during today’s protest], they came on their own — to voice their opinion,” said Chelsea Marx, the training manager for Illegal Pete’s. “We just also ask to be given the right to voice ours, and let our customers and anyone who wants to patronize our business have a fun and relaxed, comfortable time.”
Protesters were respectful and calm for the better part of the day. However, there was one incident — when construction crews attempted to leave the property — when protesters linked arms, blocking patrons from entering the restaurant and preventing construction crews from leaving.
The situation was broken up quickly, but did result in shouting between the construction crew and protesters.
According to Marx, the name Illegal Pete’s is actually in homage to Turner’s late father, who also was named “Pete.” The illegal portion of the name is actually in reference to something counter-cultural, and in recognition of the fact that “Pete and his dad were both hell-raisers, back in their day,” according to Marx. She added that “Mexican Restaurant” was actually intentionally left out of the name — not to be politically correct, but to be ambiguous enough that they could serve any type of food — just in case Mexican did not work out.
Protests continue at Illegal Pete's on University over the restaurant's name. Protests have been going for six hours pic.twitter.com/uAaZKxkvXL— Daily Wildcat (@dailywildcat) December 10, 2015
While the restaurant is not officially open, patrons were still allowed inside today.
“I’m a little confused because … what they’re trying to do here, in my opinion is almost a violation of [Turner’s] free speech,” said Ali Hussaini, a cellular and molecular medicine senior.
Hussaini and his friend Thomas Logue, also a senior, were sitting on the patio of the restaurant during the ongoing protest. Hussaini said that the protesters yelled at the pair as they walked in, calling them racists.
“Why are these [protesters] associating the word ‘illegal’ with something bad, in this case, they're associating that with Mexicans,” Hussaini said. “Why are you associating illegals with Mexicans — that’s not how things should be.”
Turner said that he is open to meeting with the concerned community members again — that he wants to hear what they have to say, and will stand by his word to make sure that their opinion is taken in to account.
Protesters outside of Illegal Pete's on University rally against the implied racial undertones of restaurant name. pic.twitter.com/YMibgTnfuj— Daily Wildcat (@dailywildcat) December 9, 2015