Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Illegal Pete’s breaks out the burritos

Holy guacamole! Illegal Pete’s is open at last.

The Boulder-born taco and burrito chain that has struggled for nearly two years to set up shop in a former pizza parlor at the intersection of East Evans Avenue and Williams Street started serving customers this week.

“It’s been a haul,” an exhausted Pete Turner said earlier in the week while city inspectors checked the building and kitchen workers fired up the grill. When everything was ready, the staff bent to the business of chopping chilies, rolling tortillas, tickling tacos — whatever it takes to serve Mission District-style Mexican food.

A four-hour “soft” opening Oct. 7 fed scores of invited guests and neighborhood residents. At noon, about 50 people had been served or were waiting to try the restaurant out.

“We’ve been waiting for this since the end of our freshman year,” says DU senior Diana Hocker. She and classmates Ashley Grimmel and Jamie Gingrass had stopped by to check things out.

“I think it’ll be a great spot for people to come and hang out,” says Gingrass, an international business major who fancies the vegetarian burrito bowl. “It’s casual and laid back. They’ll attract a lot of students.”

David Berenson, chief operating officer of Illegal Pete’s, hopes she’s right.

“Pete’s has been in business for 14 years, and this restaurant represents everything we know about how to design a restaurant and how to run a restaurant,” Berenson says. “We’re thrilled to be here.”

It’s been a long time coming. Turner has five other healthy restaurants in Denver and Boulder, but he struggled to get financing when the recession dried up credit. It was only after President Obama goaded the Small Business Administration in the spring that financing began to loosen.

Once a loan was secured, Turner began a major overhaul of the 55-year-old building at 1744 E. Evans Ave., including roof, utilities, flooring and a nifty garage-style pass-through from the bar to an outdoor seating area.

Turner’s bid to open the business became something of a race after Noodles & Company announced it was taking over a former Blockbuster store across the street and would open in October.

As it turned out, Pete’s opened first, but its advantage will only last about a week.

Noodles plans to open the 1737 E. Evans Ave. restaurant on Oct. 14 following a pre-opening event from 4–8 p.m. Oct. 13 to benefit the Fisher Early Learning Center at the University of Denver.

Berenson, ironically a former vice president of the 200-store, Broomfield-based Noodles chain, welcomes the budding competition.

“We meet different needs by and large, once you get past hunger,” he says. “Besides, there’s a certain synergy that happens when there are (dining) options in a neighborhood. It may be that they’ll have dinner at Noodles then come over here for a beer afterward. And that’s great. They’re a great company.”

Illegal Pete’s will open at 10:30 a.m. today through Sunday. On Oct. 12, it starts serving breakfast and will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. For information, visit For information on Noodles, visit to

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