Coming off its 70th anniversary, Pete’s Fish & Chips isn’t looking to change a thing.
The Valley institution has been frying up tasty and affordable eats since founder Pete Grant opened his first location in Phoenix in 1947 after receiving a medical discharge from the Navy.
“He got malaria and dysentery from a mosquito bite during the war and the doctors told him he needed a warmer climate. His famous words were, ‘Well, since I don’t speak Egyptian, I’ll head out to Arizona,’” said Pete’s daughter Kathy Adams, who now runs the company alongside one of her sisters, Pat Foster.
The young couple arrived in the Valley on Christmas morning 1946. Grant had a teaching job lined up at a Phoenix school. As the story goes, he never showed up for that job because he decided to open up a little fish-and-chips stand instead.
“It was just a 6-by-8 shack, with no running water (or electricity),” Adams said.
To power the lightbulbs, he ran his own wire up to a nearby power line.
“You could do things like that back in ’47,” Adams said. “He bought a cooker and some fillets, he breaded them himself, and a bag of potatoes, sliced the potatoes,” and the rest is history.
The little chip shop found early success, earning $12 on its first day, a pretty penny back in those days.
The first East Valley location was opened in Mesa in 1951, just blocks from the current Mesa store and the company’s downtown Mesa headquarters. The Mesa store is now the busiest of all the stores.
The first indoor restaurant opened on Mill Avenue, in Tempe in the mid-1950s. All eight locations were operating by the end of the decade. The Tempe store, now on Apache Blvd a few blocks east of Mill, has become a part of the college experience for many students at Arizona State University’s main campus.
“I was in L.A. wearing my Pete’s shirt and this guy came up to me and said ‘I put myself through college at Pete’s. Pete’s was my first job,’” said Kathy Adams’ daughter Carley Adams.
Carley is part of the third generation of the Grant family to work in the business. She runs public relations and marketing for the company.
“My grandpa started with this small little idea, but to think of all the families and people that were able to support themselves (is amazing),” she said.
Grant got the idea for the simple take-out window after seeing similar fast food operations during his service in Australia.
“The States didn’t have anything like that, where you get your food from a window and you leave,” Kathy Adams said. “Here, there were diners where you went in and sat down.”
Grant was murdered in at 1987 at age 72. That’s when daughters Kathy and Pat took over. Despite the tragedy, the company has been steadily successful over the years.
Even the Great Recession couldn’t damage Pete’s lasting fish-and-chips empire.
“When the economy goes south, it’s good for us,” Adams said. “It’s because of our prices. People are still going to eat out, and they want a good product for a fair price, so they’ll come to Pete’s.”
Pete’s has built up a dedicated and loyal customer base over the decades. Married couple Lori and David Timbrook of Mesa have been meeting for lunch at the Mesa store for 25 years.
“We love the sauce,” Lori said. “We always get shrimp and fish and kind of share a couple meals. It’s always fresh, it’s always hot, and really reasonably priced.”
For the most part, the Grant family has taken an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to business.
Pete’s still doesn’t advertise, and they have no plans for expanding beyond the current eight locations, but Carley has an eye toward the future.
“I do want to do a food truck one day,” she said, much to her mother’s chagrin.
– Peter Cheng, East Valley Tribune / Edited for Phoenix.org