Illegal Pete’s Pete Turner pays his employees close to $20 per hour

Pete Turner made international news a few years back when he refused to submit to outside pressure and change the name of his chain of burrito-and-beverage joints, Illegal Pete’s.

The name was borrowed from a book Turner read as an English major at University of Colorado Boulder, and paid homage to his father, also named Pete, who helped him launch the first Illegal Pete’s, and who died of cancer only two years later.

Amid the hullaballoo of negative press, Turner was working on something radically positive at Illegal Pete’s, something that could change the way communities support criminally underpaid restaurant workers around the world: providing health care and a living wage for every employee.

It was a lesson he learned from his father.

“It was put into my head by my father,” Turner says. “He was terminally ill with cancer and he always made sure I had health care.”

Turner launched Illegal Pete’s when he was just 23, buoyed by the support from his father, family and friends. Being so young, Turner says that as the company has grown the employees have been his peers, and so he feels an obligation to take care of them, the way his father took care of him in Illegal Pete’s early days.

Now, 23 years after launching, Illegal Pete’s pays its employees $15 per hour, with an average of $4.72 per hour in tips, $3,800 per year in free food and drinks, paid time off and sick leave, and health care. The change has been years in the making.

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