Chipotle vs. Illegal Pete’s: Battle between local and big business burritos

Chipotle and Illegal Pete's are two of the most popular burrito restaurants on campus, and with just a tenth of a mile separating the two it is a tough decision for students to make.

When students at the University of Denver are craving a burrito they have a tough choice to make between two of the top burrito joints in Denver, Illegal Pete’s or Chipotle. When I surveyed 30 students, 24 said that overall they prefer eating at Chipotle, because of their delicious ingredients.

Student Jack Jagla said he prefers the taste of Chipotle, which he claims has been a long time favorite of his due to the natural ingredients and great taste. According to Chipotle, the company strives to use organic and local products free from synthetic hormones. Although 80 percent of students surveyed said they like Chipotle better than Illegal Pete’s that still left 20% of students who preferred Illegal Pete’s, and choosing Chipotle wasn’t as easy of a decision as the survey may seem to infer.

Junior at DU Brett MacDougall and Gregory Palmer, an accountant at AngloGold Ashanti both prefer the taste of Illegal Pete’s.

“I like Illegal Pete’s better,” said MacDougall “I like the menu selection they have better. They have a different assortment of food than Chipotle like the fried peppers, breakfast burritos, and a lot of other stuff.”

Illegal Pete’s like Chipotle claims to use natural ingredients. The restaurants website says that they serve “all-natural, antibiotic, hormone-free meats from Niman Ranch.” Illegal Pete’s also has a many more options on their menu than Chipotle’s menu as McDougall noted. Some of the products Illegal Pete’s offers that Chipotle doesn’t is fish, potatoes, breakfast burritos, nachos, and taquitos just to name a few.

Local Business vs. National Chains

Taste isn’t the only factor that goes into choosing which business to support. Several students and customers say they like going to Illegal Pete’s, because they are a local business. While Chipotle does their best to still support local farms they have become a national chain since Chipotle was started here in Denver in 1993.

Despite preferring Chipotle’s burritos Jagla said, “I like to support local franchises, local business, because I feel like local business creates more jobs. I feel I have been supporting them a little more lately. Illegal Pete’s is becoming a more local chain favored by people who want to come there and support the local scene, and I’m all for that because I support local business I feel like they create more jobs, and are better for the community.”

Palmer says he has a unique perspective, because he currently works with a global mining company as a tax analyst, but before that he worked for “small mom and pop businesses” and labored on a family farm.

“I have to say at the large company I’m at now the benefits are phenomenal, and it’s global so there are some unique benefits there. Benefits like travel privileges and having coworkers all around the globe,” said Palmer. “But with small businesses what you’re going to see, which you can find from good sources, is they don’t play the tax avoidance game. Companies like apple were able to avoid some pretty large taxes, and it was all legal. Cisco was another company. They have 30 million overseas, which they have parked over there to basically avoid taxes.”

Palmer is of course talking about the recent Apple Scandal were Apple and other large corporations avoided taxes by taking advantage of global taxing laws. Apple has received much criticism for being one of the most lucrative businesses and trying to duck taxes, but have also been praised by some for innovative business thinking to increase stock value and profit, as stated in the Time’s article linked above.

Local Business promoting the Community

“Typically small businesses promote their local community, and they are more likely to support local charities than big businesses are,” Palmer said. Local businesses on average give 250 percent more to community groups, provide more jobs and give better service, according to

Students noted Illegal Pete’s  knows the local scene, they provide a good bar scene for the college atmosphere, and according to the both MacDougall and Jagla the employees are more friendly, better with customer service, and they make you feel that they truly want you stay.

According to A recent study conducted by a buy local group in Grand Rapids, Mich., found that for every $100 spent at a local store, $73 stays in the community. Non-Local businesses spend just $43 out of every $100 spent at their restaurant, as cited in Biz Beat.

“Supporting local business has always been a big thing for me, even at home in New Jersey, there are certain places I go to just because it’s a local place,” MacDougall said. “I love going there and talking to the owner there. I lean towards supporting local chains. It is not that I won’t support Chipotle, because there a big chain I just prefer supporting local business.”

Promotions and atmosphere

Promotions and atmosphere are also important elements in choosing where to dine. Despite Jagla preferring Chipotle for taste he was quick to give Illegal Pete’s the edge over Chipotle in terms of atmosphere, promotions and hours of operation. “For promotions I think Illegal Pete’s has got them beat, because they offer promotions such as flip night, which is a night where you can go in and you can flip a coin against a bartender for an alcoholic beverage and if you call correctly in the air you get the drink for 25 cents,” Jagla said.

Student Jack Jagla enjoying a meal from Chipotle to go.

Jagla also feels that the promotion brings in a lot of business saying that he has gone there before with friends just for that promotion, and once they get you inside you generally want to buy food as well. MacDougall prefers Illegal Pete’s promotions as well, because they offer free student drinks, a practice Chipotle gave up earlier this year.

The edge also seems to go to Illegal Pete’s in terms of atmosphere. Both Jagla and MacDougall say they like the atmosphere at Illegal Pete’s better. They feel that Chipotle’s bottom line is to get customers in and out as quick as possible, where as Illegal Pete’s is more of a sit down restaurant. Jagla said “[Chipotle] is more of a to-go place, where Illegal Pete’s is the kind of place you hang out. You know you stay there for a while, you hang out with friends, and its’ got a good atmosphere.” Students and customers also like the Hours at Illegal Pete’s better, because they are open until 2 a.m. compared to Chipotle which closes at 10 p.m..

Illegal Pete’s has more of a sports bar atmosphere, where the games are always on T.V., there is a lager seating area, and they even host the occasional concert. “I have seen bands playing live there before; I’ve seen friends play there before. The whole atmosphere is completely directed towards college kids, and they have great food too” said MacDougall.

Palmer echoed MacDougall saying “It is definitely more livelily at Illegal Pete’s. You go in, get a beer, and hangout. They have had bands in there before, and downtown I know they have DJ’s.”


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