Colorado restaurateur Pete Turner claims he thought nothing of calling his burrito chain “Illegal Pete’s” because, apparently, that was his nickname as a juvenile delinquent. But that hasn’t been working out well for a while now, even though the offensively christened chain is up to eight locations and growing fast. The first out-of-state Illegal Pete’s opens next month in Arizona, where around a third of the population is Hispanic, and plenty of people in Tucson tell Turner they’re not having it.
A Change.org petition created by University of Arizona students affiliated with Latino activist group MEChA has collected more than 2,000 signatures so far, demanding Turner either swallow his pride, cave on the childhood nostalgia factor and change the name — or “face a full-scale boycott”:
What you must realize is that you, and your business, do not exist in a context-free world. To you, “illegal” is a playful and meaningless descriptor that gives your restaurant a memorable name; it creates a “clever” brand. That is because this word, and its connotations, affects only your stress level and your wallet.
We are here to tell you that no longer will you be able to claim blissful ignorance and profit from racism.
Turner tells AZPM that this is really just a misunderstanding, because “That word has never been said in that context in my business for 20 years. I mean, just never, man. We are a very inclusive, open brand.” He says he’d “still consider” calling it something else, but “right now, it’s not in my plans.”