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Illegal Pete's Tempe location increased its wages to $15 an hour for employees in 2019.EXPAND
Illegal Pete's Tempe location increased its wages to $15 an hour for employees in 2019.
Rudri Bhatt Patel

Illegal Pete’s Fulfills Commitment to Raise Its Minimum Wage to $15

Pete Turner, founder and CEO of Illegal Pete’s, received poignant advice from his father in his youth — “Respect and treat people equitably.” In 2015, this philosophy provided the backbone and impetus for Turner to commit to raising wages for restaurant workers, before tips, from $9 an hour to $15 an hour by 2019.

In Arizona, under the Fair Wage and Healthy Families Act, the minimum wage will increase from $11 an hour in 2019 to $12 an hour in 2020. Illegal Pete’s offer workers a plan for their immediate future — now.

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Employees will see an increase in paychecks starting January 2019.

“I’ve always believed people should be paid what they deserve and this helps build a community culture in my restaurants,” Turner says. This perspective works. Turner is in year 24 as a restaurant owner. Two decades later Illegal Pete’s has nine locations in Colorado and two locations in Arizona – one in Tempe, and another in Tucson. There are also plans to expand to downtown Phoenix and Flagstaff.

Turner always asked the question, “Why don’t I see if I can pay a livable wage to my employees?” Raising this inquiry pushed him to consider what income it takes two adults to raise a family of four. He says he’s seen a positive impact in his employees’ quality of life. “The people who work at Illegal Pete’s are able to pursue schooling, buy homes, and take vacations.”

Turner says to focus on a living minimum wage alternative, it requires a need to value people. Turner witnessed how much the restaurant industry focused on sustainability in farming and providing fresh ingredients to the customers, but he shifted his perspective to the human element. Protecting the sustainability of employees became one of the core elements in working toward the wage increase. Turner admits it took time to achieve the $15 minimum wage, but he says, “the plan was always to get ahead of the curve to help people and the business at the same time.”

“At the end of the day,” Turner says, “I wanted the best people to work in my restaurants.” The competitive wage allows him to attract people who want to genuinely work at Illegal Pete’s. “It is good business. We have a low turnover, make a profit, and don’t have any problems filling our positions.”

Customers notice, too. Since employees are happy, Turner says, “it breaks down the counter barrier culture.” There is an intentionality present and he “creates an atmosphere where there is a palpable human connection.” Investing in employees means removing uncertainty out of their lives. This breeds positive relationships among staff, management, and customers.

Employee Miranda Campuzano, a bartender and social media coordinator for the Tempe location, knows firsthand how the minimum-wage increase affected her standard of living. After graduating from the University of Arizona, she relocated from Tucson a few months ago and found the “price of food, living costs, and transportation” were more expensive in Phoenix. But, she wasn’t worried.

“Even with $12 an hour I was able to find a place in Phoenix that worked for me,” Campuzano says. “With $15 an hour, I have extra spending power and the ability to travel, as well as save.” Receiving a set paycheck every month means she doesn’t have to “rely on fluctuations in tips.” The guaranteed wage offers a certainty and, Campuzano says, “the relationships improve among staff because everyone isn’t competing against one another since the tips are split fair and equitably.”

Campuzano also appreciated Turner’s hands-on approach and interaction with his employees. “Pete is never afraid to jump on the line to make a burrito or to help where he is needed.” This philosophy creates a family culture in the restaurant and, Campuzano says, “Turner focuses on making everyone feel their job is equally valuable, whether you are a line worker, bartender, or in management.”

At 22, Campuzano is excited she can invest in a 401(k) and also explore other opportunities in the company. In addition to a 401(k) plan, Illegal Pete’s offers medical, dental, and vision insurance, as well as paid sick leave and paid time off. With these benefits, Campuzano says, “Pete makes it possible to consider a long-term career” in the restaurant industry.

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