A small group of protesters in Fort Collins is trying to pressure the owner of a popular local restaurant chain into changing its name, claiming the current one is insulting to illegal immigrants.
Illegal Pete’s, a fast-casual burrito restaurant similar to Chipotle, is scheduled to open its seventh Colorado location in Fort Collins in early November. But about 30 people who are miffed at the name threatened to protest the grand opening if owner Pete Turner didn’t drop the “I-word.”
“The restaurant will be located in the same area that current Fort Collins residents remember often seeing signs saying ‘No dogs or Mexicans,'” wrote Colorado State University assistant English professor Antero Garcia in a letter to Turner that prompted Turner to attend a meeting of concerned citizens Wednesday night.
“It is under this legacy of American racist practices that the name Illegal Pete’s becomes unacceptable,” Garcia wrote.
At the meeting, Garcia told Turner, “This is a place that’s going to instill violence in our community,” according to the Fort Collins Coloradoan.
One woman told Turner “this is probably a little uncomfortable for you” to be in a room full of minorities.
Illegal Pete’s has been in operation since 1995 and with six current locations in Boulder and Denver, Turner said he’s never heard any opposition to the name before. He explained to the protesters that the name both refers to him as the owner and was inspired by the name of a bar in a book he read as an English major in college.
But those in attendance said it carries racial connotations and the restaurant wouldn’t be welcomed in Fort Collins unless he changes the name to “Pete’s Mexican Restaurant.”
Immigration attorney Kim Medina, who organized and led the meeting, told Turner “we can be mobilizing ourselves either to celebrate or to protest” the restaurant’s scheduled Nov. 13 opening.
It’s unclear just how much support such a protest would have. Comments on the Coloradoan article were vastly in favor of keeping the restaurant’s current name.
“It would have been nice to know about this meeting ahead of time so others could voice their opinions too,” wrote commenter Patrick Theobald. “Fort Collins isn’t fairly represented by the 30 or so present at the meeting.”
Another wrote: “This is completely absurd. Those people should be ashamed of themselves for making something out of nothing. The guy runs a solid local business, leave him alone.”
Indeed, Turner told the protesters that his business gives regularly to charity and that he has helped pay expenses for some employees gaining their U.S. citizenship.
Milton Guevara, the manager of an Illegal Pete’s in Boulder, also attended the meeting and said he was undocumented in the United States for 20 years before becoming a citizen. The restaurant’s name never offended him, the Coloradoan reported him as saying.
“I’m Hispanic, and I’m very proud to be,” Guevara said. “People come to us because they love our food. … The name doesn’t mean anything.”
Turner told the protesters that changing the name would be a lot to consider, the Coloradoan reported.
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