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Illegal Pete’s opens second AZ location near ASU’s Tempe campus

Students can enjoy Mexican-style food and local music at the new Illegal Pete’s on Mill Avenue


Pedestrians walk past Illegal Pete's restaurant on Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona, on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.

Known for its connection to the local music scene, signature queso and dedication to stirring up the ingredients in a burrito, Illegal Pete’s opened its second Arizona location on Mill Avenue in Tempe.  

Illegal Pete’s is a counter service Mexican-style restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which originated in Boulder, CO and has a full bar as well as a venue that is designed to support local artists. 

The restaurant’s commitment to the music scene is apparent with its creation of the record label Greater Than Collective, which is currently working in Colorado with nine bands and three comedians. 

Virgil Dickerson, director of marketing for Illegal Pete’s, said the fast and affordable food the restaurant offers is great for the college community. 

“A lot of students obviously are super busy with school, and they don’t have the time for a sit-down restaurant, but they still want good food,” Dickerson said. “I feel like we serve that niche.” 

Dickerson said the comfortable atmosphere of Illegal Pete’s allows it to also be a place where students can hang out or study if they are not in a hurry. 

“You know, some places want to get you in and out as fast as possible,” he said. “We love having people hang out and spend time there and get to know our staff.”

Dickerson said he started Greater Than Collective and the Starving Artists Program when he began working for Illegal Pete’s in 2010. Although the record label is based in Colorado and will not expand, he said the company is continuing the tradition of the Starving Artists Program in Arizona. 

He said the company still plans to support local artists in the area, and it recently partnered with ALT AZ 93.3 to sponsor segments such as Homegrown with Mo, which plays the music of local bands on weeknights from 11 p.m. to midnight. 

Dickerson said the Tempe location is also offering a penny drink from the bar, or a soda for those who are underage, to any person that comes in with a ticket stub from any sporting event or concert they went to in the area. 

Nate Meese, who plays bass for The Still Tide — a band that is signed to the Greater Than Collective record label, said he feels lucky to have the company's support.

“They’ve helped out a number of bands that are coming out of Denver, whether it’s as simple as like giving them free burritos, or it’s as complicated as funding, like a whole kind of record cycle,” Meese said. 

The Starving Artists Program is designed to offer free food to artists traveling through the cities where there are Illegal Pete’s restaurant locations. Meese said the program is helpful for both the artists and the company. 

“It’s beneficial for a company because they get the opportunity to get behind causes that they believe in and, you know, help out bands and artists that they really like,” he said. “And then it’s for artists because we get support from somewhere that we wouldn’t necessarily have thought could have existed before.”

Mike Upsahl, a member of We Were Stereo, which used to be called Stereotyperider, said his band has visited Illegal Pete’s and utilized the benefits of its Starving Artists Program every time they have been on tour through Colorado.  

Upsahl said one of the things that initially stood out to him the first time he went to Illegal Pete’s was how they mix the food together on a tortilla before rolling it all up, and his favorite thing to order from Illegal Pete’s is the pork burrito with everything on it.

“It initially started because a lot of touring bands are, you know, living on the road in a small van and they don’t have the biggest budget to eat and so it’s one of those things you can really look forward to going, ‘Hey, we’re going to Denver, we get to eat really good food and we get to eat it for free,’” Upsahl said.

Dickerson said when a band is unsigned it is expensive to record music, hire a publicist and put out records. 

“We want to do what we can to support that community and with the hope that our support will get them to whatever that next level might be,” he said. “And you know, we love supporting that community, and we feel that the people that support our restaurants support that community as well.”

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