FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – Community members in Fort Collins are demanding an owner change the name of his business because it is offensive to immigrants.

Pete Turner, owner of Mexican restaurant chain Illegal Pete’s, attended a meeting Wednesday to listen to the concerns of dissidents. Nearly 50 people were in attendance. The crowd consisted of Colorado State University students, faculty and members of the community.

Cheryl Distaso, coordinator of the social justice nonprofit Fort Collins Community Action Network, said the restaurant’s name dehumanizes people.

“Using the word illegal when you are referring to a human being is dehumanizing and it is offensive,” Distaso said.

Turner said he had no such intention.

“My name is Pete. I was able to open the restaurant with the help of my father. He was also Pete,” he said.

Turner said his father was terminally ill but lived to see the first restaurant opening in Boulder.

Illegal Pete’s is now available in six locations in Colorado and plans to expand to Fort Collins. The Fort Collins restaurant is scheduled to open on Nov. 13. Some in Fort Collins are not having it.

Distaso said it’s because of the negative history associated to the restaurant’s name, one that goes as far back as the 1960s, well before Pete’s first restaurant opening nearly 20 years ago.

“Messages range from heartfelt personal stories about what it was like growing up in Fort Collins with ‘No Dogs and Mexicans’ signs in the downtown area, in the very same place the restaurant is going to be built,” she said.

Turner said he could empathize.

“The meeting itself was gracious. It was not comfortable for me but I enjoyed it,” he said. “This group of people was thoughtful and they shared experiences that as a white person in America I haven’t felt. I couldn’t imagine living like that, so I do understand.”

Turner does, however, also believe in his right to name his business whatever he chooses.

“I didn’t realize it would be a free speech issue,” he said.

Turner said he plans to expand his business to Arizona. Distaso said the situation in Fort Collins provides Turner the opportunity to reconcile his company’s social justice initiatives, mentioned on its website, with consistent action.

“He is going to have to address this sooner or later,” she added. “I realize what we are asking him to do is a significant amount of work. I am confident he will do the right thing.”

While the issue of whether or not the restaurant’s name will keep hangs in the air, one thing remains certain: come November, Turner’s restaurant will open to either celebration or protest.

– By Sneha Antony for CBSDenver.com

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