Fresh home from the war, newly married and needing to better recover from malaria and rheumatic fever he caught from a mosquito bite on a PT boat in the south Pacific, Peter Grant packed his car and trailer and left his home city of Indianapolis for the desert town of Phoenix.
He simply set out to follow his dream, a dream that included starting a fast-food business his name remains synonymous with: Pete’s Fish and Chips.
Today, Grant’s family is keeping the dream alive, for Pete’s sake, and marking the 65th anniversary of the roadside dining restaurant started March 23, 1947 in a small wooden shack with no running water in east Phoenix — a company that continues today with eight Valley locations and its Mesa business hub.
From that first Phoenix location at 3060 E. Van Buren Street, Grant sold fish and chips for 35 cents and a bottle of soda for a nickel. Leasing the property from a friend who owned a driving range — and whose garden hose he borrowed for water — Grant believed he “was on to something” when he made $12 profit the day he opened.
He called his first location Sports Fair Fish and Chips and later that year, he opened two more small stands and called them The Chip House. By the time he opened his fourth location in Tolleson, he began calling it Pete’s Fish and Chips. Grant later came to boast his business venture as “The Biltmore for the common man,” and expanded on the philosophy of “It’s better to make a quick nickel than it is a slow dime.”
Pete’s, with its cracker meal batter-breading on Pollack fish and shrimp, Monsterburgers and special sauce, has two East Valley locations, in addition to the downtown Mesa company headquarters. Pete opened one at 820 Mill Ave. in Tempe in 1950 and another at 145 E. Main St. in Mesa in 1951. The Tempe location now is at 1017 E. Apache Blvd., and the Mesa store — now in its third home — is currently at 22 S. Mesa Drive, at East Main Street.
Although Pete Grant died in 1987, not much else of the business has changed. In an era where many family-owned restaurants are shuttering their doors, Pete’s is in its fourth generation of family members active in the business, mirroring at least four generations of customers. Some say they keep returning for the sauce. Others says its for the freshness of the food and quick service.
“We are what we are,” said Kathy Adams of Mesa, one of four of Grant’s daughters who co-owns the restaurants with sisters Pat Foster, Babs Sanders and Ginnie Grant. They all began working for their dad when they were old enough to hold a potato in their hand, peeling piles of them and later worked their way up through the ranks. Adams’ daughter Casey Ruiz and sons Cody and Kyle Adams also work in the family business, as does her granddaughter, Hannah Adams, a 16-year-old junior at Mesa’s Mountain View High School.
“We’re fast food, but with reasonable prices, quality and good service,” Kathy Adams said. “That’s what we do, and we’re not going to change a thing. Our customers have been loyal to us, and we love them.”
“He loved being in downtowns,” Pat Foster said.
Pete’s Fish and Chips iconic neon sign portraying a large fish was first manufactured by Mesa’s own Paul Millett. It beckons like a beacon for regular customers who come to eat the daily lunch specials ranging from $1.60 for a hot dog and French fries to $8.50 for a 15-piece shrimp and chips dinner.
The crowds of people who dine at the picnic tables outside or cars that steadily pass through the drive-thru window are proof that Pete’s is popular place.
At age 84, Jesse Carpenter of Mesa is a regular who has been coming to the Mesa location since it opened, a few years after moving from Oklahoma in the wake of the Great Depression.
“I guess I like it here,” Carpenter said as he cracked a couple of jokes with longtime customers Dennis and Patty Wilson of Gilbert. “I love the fish and chips and that’s what I always get to eat. I think it’s really good.”
In fact, just last week, Pete’s downtown location made KPHO’s (CBS-5) Dean’s List for cleanliness and service — not an easy designation.
But Grant’s family knows all too well — it has overcome more difficult challenges.
In the late 1970s, when Pete’s experienced numerous robberies at his Phoenix locations, he declared war on all “hoodlums” by arming all of his managers with a handgun after training them how to shoot, according to past newspaper articles hanging on Pete’s office wall.
Sadly, on Dec. 14, 1987, Pete Grant was shot to death inside his apartment by a man going for a his coin collection, valued at $30,000, and bags full of special 1-ounce silver coins Grant had been handing out for the 40th anniversary of his business. But the tragedy did not end his family’s entrepreneurial spirit of keeping Pete’s going.
While serving in the European campaign during World War II, Grant acquired a love for eating fish. An avid golfer who played as an amateur in the British Pro-Am for 25 years, Grant also saw how big the fast-food fish industry was in England, further bolstering his decision to expand his business.
“Dad always said build a better mousetrap and they’ll beat a path to your door,” Ginnie Grant said.
The Wilsons said they’ve been to all of the Pete’s Fish and Chips locations, and love the sauce, but are most comfortable in Mesa where Pete’s is near a small park.
“It’s a nice setting here,” Patty Wilson said. “We always get the fish. We have a daughter who lives in Utah, and whenever she comes down here, she has to eat at Pete’s.”
On Friday, all of the Pete’s Fish and Chips locations throughout the Valley, will sell any size soda for 65 cents.
Pete’s other locations include a newly-renovated Ruth Walden Super Pete’s at 9309 W. Van Buren in Tolleson, named after the longtime manager who worked there for 57 years, one in Glendale, and four in Phoenix.
“We love to hear the stories about the business through the years from the customers, especially the college stories,” Babs Sanders said. “We’re a springboard for many high school students who get their first job here. Many people tell us if they wouldn’t have eaten here, they couldn’t have afforded to stay in college.”
“Pete’s Fish and Chips is one of God’s gifts to the earth,” said Jarred Hurt, 31, who moved to San Tan Valley from Oklahoma about two weeks ago and was eating at Pete’s for his second time. His brother, Tony Cutler, sister-in-law, Nina, and niece, Aamani, who is 5, like to eat here, “and now I do.”
Cutler added: “I’ve eaten her since I was a kid. There’s not many places around that have a wide variety of food that you can get quick and the sauce is awesome. And, it’s always fresh.”
What’s next for Pete’s?
“Nothing new,” Foster said. “We’ll stick with what we know and just focus on improving the locations we have.”
“What would dad say?,” Adams said. “I think he would be proud.”
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