Tucsonans were alarmed last month when a New York investment firm announced it had purchased the beloved local fast-food chain Eegee’s.
“It kind of feels like a betrayal, like that was ours,” said Tucson local Christine Barton.
She remembers loading up into cars with friends from Sunnyside High School to grab Eegee’s drinks at one of the first stands on South Sixth Avenue and Benson Highway in 1976. When Eegee’s started, lemon was the only flavor, but people loved it, she said.
Barton was not alone in her disappointment with the sale. One Eegee’s fan said there was no longer a reason to live in Tucson after learning of the sale.
Well … eegees is being nationalized. No reason to live in Tucson anymore.
— Zachary. (@Qu3erlyBeloved) October 11, 2018
While the frozen fruit drink purveyor is not going “national,” it does plan to expand into what some Tucsonans see as unsavory territory – Phoenix.
The state capital and rival Arizona city could see its first full Eegee’s store open in the next couple of years, according to C. Ron Petty, Eegee’s new CEO. He said the company’s main focus was still Tucson, though.
“We could easily put another six to eight stores in Tucson,” he said. The company will expand in Tucson before moving into the Phoenix market. The creation of the Eegee’s drink, ranch and fries will remain the same, he said.
Petty has been with Eegee’s since 2012 when he joined the board of directors. He said the new investment company 39 North Capital purchased Eegee’s in part because of Eegee’s relationship with Tucson.
“They liked the following and customer interaction and relationship we have with the community of Tucson,” he said, “… so they’re not interested in changing any of that. That’s the strength of the brand.”
The man responsible for Eegee’s Twitter, Robert Santiago, went as far as to say that Eegee’s brand is Tucson.
“We consider ourselves a community partner,” he said.
Over one million gallons of Eegee’s drink were sold by the end of September this year, according to Petty. Every day Eegee’s receives shipping orders from across the country, including from California, Colorado, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.
This is Eegee’s biggest year yet, according to Petty, but the company keeps its sales numbers and worth confidential. All company stock is privately held.
During peak season, from April to September, Eegee’s is produced 24 hours a day in Tucson.
Eegee’s has drawn a cult-like following since the slushie-like drink was developed 47 years ago by two University of Arizona alums. Ed Irving and Bob Greenberg first marketed their product as a frozen lemonade but soon expanded their flavor options and dubbed the drink an “eegee’s.”
Lemon, piña colada, and strawberry Eegee’s are always on the menu along with a seasonal flavor of the month.
The most popular flavor is July’s watermelon. It is so popular that in summer 2017, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild wrote Eegee’s to ask that watermelon be released early — on account of record-breaking heat in Tucson.
His wish was granted.
Michelle Jaquette is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.