Mission-style burritos are among menu highlights at Illegal Pete's, the Denver restaurant chain that will expand to downtown Colorado Springs in the summer. FACEBOOK PHOTO

Illegal Pete's, known for its Mission-style burritos, tacos, and other Mexican dishes at a dozen locations in northern Colorado and Arizona, will become the latest Denver restaurant to expand to Colorado Springs.

The fast-casual chain plans to open its first Springs location at 32 S. Tejon St. in leased space in a downtown building that had housed the Thirsty Parrot Bar & Grill until it closed in 2020. The building is now home to multiple users.

Founder Pete Turner said he's targeting a June or July opening for his downtown Springs location.

Turner founded Illegal Pete's in 1995 in The Hill area at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he graduated with an English degree.

The restaurant name was inspired by a bar in a novel and was meant to convey a "unique, countercultural atmosphere" that Turner wanted to foster, according to Illegal Pete's website.

The website also says the restaurant was named for Turner's late father, Pete Turner Sr., who's described as "a bit of a good-natured hell-raiser in his day."

Turner later added a restaurant in Boulder, seven locations in Denver and one in Fort Collins. In 2015, he opened a location in Tucson and three years later in Tempe.

Turner said he's always eyed the Springs for expansion, and began looking in earnest about five years ago.

He considered opening in a building at 112 N. Tejon St., which had been the longtime home of Zeezo's magic and costume shop. The property was purchased in 2019 by The Baldwin Cohn Group, which is headed by local businessmen Brent Baldwin and Derek Cohn.

Turner, however, said he shelved the Colorado Springs expansion because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A portion of the 112 N. Tejon building now is home to Bell Brothers Brewing, which opened New Year's Eve; another part of the building is being remodeled to accommodate the Denver-based Tattered Cover bookstore, which will expand this year to the Springs. 

Turner renewed his interest in the Springs and its downtown after he was approached by Baldwin and Cohn, who purchased the building at 32 S. Tejon in August 2020. 

Downtown Colorado Springs, Turner said, is undergoing the same type of renaissance that he watched unfold two decades ago in Denver's lower downtown, where an Illegal Pete's opened in 2001.

New apartments and hotels, the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and the Weidner Field multiuse stadium are among additions to the Springs' downtown.

"I'm from Littleton, but it was cool to see Denver become what it is," he said. "Obviously growth has its challenges, too, and its negatives. But I kind of have the same feeling, like the Springs, it feels like there's the same sort of vision and momentum happening down there."

Illegal Pete's will occupy 5,500 square feet on the ground floor of the three-level building at 32 S. Tejon. 

Larger than other Illegal Pete's locations, the downtown Colorado Springs restaurant will accommodate customer seating, a full bar, space for music and other live events and a kitchen for delivery, catering and digital sales, Turner said.

Turner said he grew to enjoy Mission-style — larger and loaded — burritos while visiting college friends in San Francisco, and made them a signature item when he opened his first restaurant.

Illegal Pete's menu includes salads, nachos, quesadillas and queso — "handmade food crafted with responsibly-sourced, high-quality ingredients," its website said. "We also keep a full bar and a wide selection of local craft beer at every Pete’s location to keep the good times rolling."

Illegal Pete's will employ 35 to 50 full- and part-time workers, Turner said.

Employees are key to the restaurant's success, he said; in June 2015, he introduced a plan to boost his workers' starting tipped hourly wage to $15, a level that was reached in January 2019. The state's minimum wage increased last week to $12.56 an hour.

The downtown location could be just the first Illegal Pete's in Colorado Springs; Turner said two to three restaurants are possible in the area, depending on how the initial location fares.

At 32 S. Tejon St., Illegal Pete's will join Epiphany, a new cafe, restaurant, bar and music venue that's opened on the top floor.

Building owners Baldwin and Cohn also are talking with a potential basement tenant — possibly a speakeasy concept, Cohn said.

Illegal Pete's arrival comes at a time when the city's downtown is booming.

Nearly 600 downtown apartments, lofts and condos have opened since 2015, while more than 2,400 more residences are under construction the area or were expected to break ground last year and in 2022, according to the Downtown Partnership advocacy group. Another 2,100 are planned or have been announced.

A dual-branded Marriott is set to open this year on South Tejon Street, which will be the fourth new downtown hotel since 2019.

Several Denver restaurant and entertainment concepts also have opened downtown in recent years, such as Atomic Cowboy, Fat Sully's Pizza, Denver Biscuit Co., Dos Santos Tacos, White Pie Pizzeria and Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar. 

"It's a big deal for downtown," Cohn said of Illegal Pete's. "It's another Denver concept, very much like Atomic Cowboy and Denver Biscuit that's making their entry into the Colorado Springs market.

The building at 32 S. Tejon has undergone significant upgrades to accommodate its new users, Cohn said. 

A portion of the building's façade that jutted inward along Tejon has been pulled out and now runs parallel with the sidewalk, creating more interior space for Illegal Pete's, Cohn said. 

New ActivWall, gas strut windows — a brand of window that opens up and outward at a 90-degree angle — have been installed along Tejon and Colorado Avenue, Cohn said; they'll allow for the creation of year-round, indoor-outdoor space and passers-by can see directly into Illegal Pete's.

Other upgrades include new common-area lobbies installed on Tejon and Colorado that allow customers to access stairs to reach the building's basement on the Tejon side or to access an elevator along Colorado.

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