Watch CBS News

Illegal Pete's Files Lawsuit Against Delware Over Name Of Restaurant

DENVER (CBS4) - In this day and age of political correctness, a legal battle is brewing in Delaware over a Colorado restaurant chain's name. "Illegal Pete's" specializes in Mexican food. To some the name doesn't go down as well as the cuisine.

ILLEGAL PETES 6PKG.transfer_frame_957
(credit: CBS)

Jenny Santos is a legal victim advocate with Servicios de la Raza, a community assistance program. She told CBS4's Rick Sallinger she has an issue with the name.

"The term illegal, I do have a problem with because no human being is illegal."

ILLEGAL PETES 6PKG.transfer_frame_317
Jenny Santos (credit: CBS)

The restaurants' owner Pete Turner has long said the name refers to his late father.

"He was Pete, I am Pete. The name comes from a book, you know, but really anything it was just a throw off, no real significance other than 'wow that's a cool name,'" Turner told CBS4 in 2014.

ILLEGAL PETES 6PKG.transfer_frame_799
Pete Turner (credit: CBS)

Now the state of Delaware doesn't think it's so cool. It has rejected the name on business documents in that state citing a "negative connotation" according to a lawsuit filed by Illegal Pete's.

But some customers, like Brett MacDougall, disagree with the state's point of view.

"I think the atmosphere of the place and overall vibe speaks louder than the name."

ILLEGAL PETES 6PKG.transfer_frame_957
(credit: CBS)

Illegal Pete's was recently in the news for raising their minimum pay. The chain is known for community involvement, but the name issue has come up before with no action.

Santos said she would like to see the restaurants change their name.

"I would love to see anyone using the term illegal to change their term so that it's more inclusive, open friendlier to the community."

Illegal Pete's posted the following statement:

As has been reported in the press, Illegal Pete's has filed a lawsuit against Delaware's Secretary of State due to the rejection of certain corporate filings on the ground that the company's name allegedly has "offensive connotations." We sincerely regret Delaware's misinterpretation of the company's name, and we hope to resolve this unfortunate confusion as quickly as possible.

24 years ago, Pete Turner named his restaurant Illegal Pete's as an homage to his dying father, Pete Turner Senior. Pete Sr. was a good old fashioned hell-raiser, and helped Pete Jr. start the company. The name had no racial connotations then, and it has no connotations now. In our current political times, divided and filled with racial tension, our name has been unwittingly rolled into a larger conversation about race, the United States, who belongs here and if a human being should ever be referred to as "illegal."

We believe that no person should be referred to as "illegal" because of where they come from. In fact, welcoming all people is a central tenet of our mission that touches every part of our business. We believe this is a vital conversation, and we'll participate in the dialogue as immigrants, allies and friends of immigrants; we just maintain that our name has nothing to do with this fight.

The word "illegal" in our name is a reference to the countercultural, to the rebellious, to the very picture of challenging authority that the restaurants were founded upon. It's in this spirit that we challenge the decision made by Delaware officials to refuse to incorporate because of our name. The word "illegal" has usages that extend far beyond using it as a slur, and these different and endless usages are a vital part of our language and society. If we retract every instance of the word "illegal," it won't solve the issues our country has with being fearful of others where we should be welcoming.

If we removed every instance of the word "illegal," we wouldn't be able to talk about the regulations we build our society around.

Illegal Pete's is the name we've done business under for 24 years. Changing the name is a violation of our free speech.

It has the potential to harm the business that Pete Turner has tirelessly built from the ground up, and change the quality of life for our hundreds of employees at our 11 locations. It's for this reason that we stand in solidarity against the usage of "illegal" as a slur towards immigrants, while also refusing to back down in regards to its usage in our name.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.