If you’re new to the Tucson area or southern Arizona you’ve undoubtedly come across an eegee’s. Perhaps you were curious about trying it or wondered “what is an eegee” in passing? Whatever your experience, eegee’s is a Tucson staple that has served its hometown for generations. Over 50 years now, in fact. And if you haven’t gotten a brain freeze by now, it’s time to get on board.
How exactly did eegee’s get its start and why is it a must-visit when in Tucson? Besides just being that dang good, here’s a deeper dive into our history, as well as what has turned this frozen madness into a beloved icon over the years.
Things can get pretty hot in the desert. And, we’re not exaggerating. It’s barren AF. But I guess we have a love-hate thing going on with summer because when the thermometer pushes into the triple digits, it’s eegee weather! Sitting inside with a cranked AC doesn’t have the same effect as a large frozen strawberry eegee and a side bucket of ranch. Oh, you haven’t heard about our ranch? Get in here already!
Back in the summer of 1971, a couple of high school buddies were looking for a way to beat the heat and make a buck. Together they ended up purchasing a vending truck and started selling a frozen lemon drink around town. They sound like a fun couple of dudes, right?!
They started selling their frozen drink near schools, in front of sporting events and, of course, on campus at the University of Arizona. When it came to naming their frozen lemon drink they combined the “E” and “G” from their names and came up with “eegee” (E-G). To go along with the frozen beverage, the two sold subs as well. In a sense, eegee’s became one of the very first “food trucks” in the city of Tucson, if not the entire state of Arizona.
Eventually, the demand for additional frozen beverages put a heavier demand on the pair’s “workspace” inside the truck. With new flavors, including orange, the second eegee flavor, pina colada, and strawberry.
The frozen lemon drink and subs proved to be a smashing success, so the pair eventually took their business idea and opened up their very first brick-and-mortar location. The new storefront opened just one year after the debut of the truck, and within two years eegee’s had four stores running throughout metro Tucson.
As the years went by, the fast-food chain continued to expand and even add on new food ventures within the facilities. Starting in 1989, the restaurants began baking all of their own bread, in order to ensure the highest quality of freshness. After all, there’s nothing better than a made-to-order sub on fresh-baked bread.
Except maybe the ranch. But we’ll let you decide that.
There are now over 25 restaurant locations here in Arizona. The majority of them are located in and around the heart of Tucson (Bear Down!) with an additional location in Casa Grande. Several new restaurants have been announced recently, with two more restaurants sprouting in Tucson and several others destined for metro Phoenix. We see you, Phoenix, and we’re coming for you.
One challenge many restaurants face is change in ownership. Often when another buyer takes over they may want to alter recipes or switch menu items in an effort to cut costs. That has not happened with eegee’s. In 2019, a new owner took over. As the local restaurant chain expanded, the original owners formed a board of operations. Yes, fancy, but also, necessary, because sadly, the owner passed away and his estate wanted to sell off their share of the restaurant.
Enter investment firm 39 North. Made clear from the start, the goal of the purchase was not to change anything about what made eegee’s a Tucson favorite. Instead, the company wanted to help in its expansion by bringing the restaurant to new locations in Arizona and maybe one day outside of it.
Though the recent pandemic affected a lot of businesses, eegee’s has been able to keep forging ahead. With several new restaurants announced, this is only the beginning of the expansion. Soon you’ll be able to find eegee’s flexin’ beyond Tucson metro and the Pima County border.
It’s always nice to know how a business gives back to its community and eegee’s has always had a soft spot for taking care of its neighborhood. eegee’s kicked off its first recycling program back in 1987, well before recycling was “cool”.
All eegee’s restaurant locations continue to look for ways to cut down on waste and to be as close to “zero waste” as possible. This includes not only recycling tens of thousands of cardboard boxes on an annual basis, but also donating food such as baked bread that is not used by the restaurant. eegee’s bakes bread fresh every day, so the bread that is not sold by the end of the day is later donated, which is why the local chain has been able to donate almost a quarter of a million loaves of bread to local charities. And all of that is happening right here in Tucson.
That’s not all though. Even the canola oil used in the production of food within the restaurant is sold off following its use and converted into biodiesel fuel off-site. Add in the 10,000 plastic pails sent to recycling and the extreme energy-efficient HVAC systems within the restaurants, too.
Few restaurants not only in Tucson, but in the entire country, do as much for eliminating waste as the eegee’s locations in Tucson. We love our planet just as much as we love our customers!
While in Tucson, it doesn’t matter if you have just moved here or if you’re just visiting, eegee’s is an absolute must-visit. No other fast-food chain in the city has had this kind of impact on the local community, and no other expanding chain is able to claim its birthplace right here in the city. As the restaurant continues to expand and move into new markets it will continue to have its Tucson identity, and what better way to be part of that identity than to grab a sub and one of the countless flavors of eegee drinks.
eegee’s is so much more than a sub and frozen drink joint. It’s as much a part of the city as Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat, the Biosphere or Rodeo Days. You can’t compare us and that’s what makes us so proud.