Pete Turner looks back on the early days of opening his first Illegal Pete’s with fondness but also remembers that it nearly killed him.
“There was definitely a lot of trial and error in those days, and some near-death experiences,” he says.
In addition to the regular trials and tribulations that one faces when opening up a restaurant for the first time, Pete remembers one incident that was particularly harrowing.
The event that nearly caused Pete to meet his maker took place at his 1961 ranch house in Boulder where Pete came up with many of the recipes still seen on the Illegal Pete’s menu today - including, in this case, the House Hot salsa.
“We use dry Thai chili pods for the salsa that we roast in a pan first to bring out the oils and enhance the flavor,” he recalls. “I got the pan a little too hot and the chilies really started to smoke. The fan wasn’t really doing much of anything and I caught a decent whiff of the smoke which made me immediately cough and empty my lungs, after which I inhaled a lung-full of pure chili smoke. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I stumbled blindly outside and collapsed on the ground and the next five minutes are kind of a blur. My lungs, eyes, nose and mouth were all on fire and my heart was putting up some serious protest. I maybe cried a little bit in self-pity but alas I was back after it in an hour or so. That salsa has a special place in my heart and remains my favorite of our salsas.”
After his near death experience, Pete continued to hone the recipes and concept for his restaurants. The latter was first envisioned after Pete visited some friends in San Francisco.
“Our “Mission-style” Mexican food comes from the Mission District of San Francisco and has been a part of Bay Area cuisine for many, many years,” he says. “The style of food was a revelation to me - with the fresh grilled meats and freshly prepared sauces as well as just the hand-held, portable style of the food. I thought to myself “if I had this food in Boulder on The Hill when I went to school I would have eaten there all the time so I pursued it.”
Pete, armed with an English degree, opened his first restaurant on The Hill in Boulder on August 15th, 1995. The restaurant now has five Colorado locations with hopes to expand even further in the future.
“We are looking to grow both in state and out of state in the next few years if the right opportunities present themselves,” he says. “We have been fortunate to work with an incredible group of people through the years. We still have our first employee working at Illegal Pete’s after 16 years. We want to create opportunity for those of our employees who would like career growth, because we believe so strongly in the quality of our food, service, and environment. We believe that there are many communities the country over where Illegal Pete’s could really take root, attract and employ great people and truly be a community amenity. We are looking for those opportunities.”
We encourage all of you to continue to be part of our growing community. Pete’s continues to strive to be an inclusive environment – but if you see Pete with some Thai Chilies in his hand…RUN!