Chicago Icon Portillo Goes Public, Begins Road To 600 Restaurants

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Still, customers will never have to decipher where Portillo finds its roots. “It’s Chicago-inspired street food, but at a friendly local restaurant. I think it’s really important for how we build and how we think about our designs going forward, ”Osanloo said.

The nearly 8,000 square foot Portillo sites are built for the rush off the premises, a pre-COVID trend but ignited by restaurant closings. Racers behind the wheel move in the queue of cars in the lanes to take orders, get tickets for the kitchen as quickly as possible. During shutdowns, when employees weren’t required to manage front-of-house operations, it was common to see eight or nine riders moving among vehicles during rush hour. Guests were given orders before they reached a menu board. Even when the lines stretched for 30 to 40 cars, the company said it was getting people out in 5 or 6 minutes. Portillo’s also benefited from a two-lane system that allows cars to take off and exit if they get food before the cars ahead.

Portillo’s is also actively building dedicated entrances so that third-party drivers and curbside customers can park nearby, get their food, and leave. “We’re very smart about the direction of the puck,” said Osanloo.

The brand is preparing to pilot a take-out-only (no dining room) restaurant with three drive-thru lanes, also in Joliet, Ill., And has a ghost kitchen setup with Kitchen United at Chicago downtown.

The Joliet location, Osanloo says, will be a highly marked experience where employees will wear uniforms that resemble a NASCAR race. It is on a one acre lot instead of lots larger than 2 acres that the company typically targets. “I think it’s an exciting test,” Osanloo said, adding that it is expected to open in the first quarter of 2022.

So where exactly is Portillo going? Osanloo has a two-fold map on the table. One strategy will be to build on the chain’s strong core in the Midwest – a natural and organic expansion into familiar states like Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio.

The other vector is a question of expediency. Portillo’s circled the Sun Belt so they could capitalize on the country’s three fastest growing states: Florida, Texas and Arizona. Beyond what the demographics tell Portillo, Osanloo says, there is clear latent demand for the brand. “I know because we ship food there,” he says. People who take advantage of Chicago’s winters often find themselves in these booming markets, Osanloo adds.

But at the point of shipment, Portillo’s has 67 stores in nine states, but in the past five years, shipped 2.7 million sandwiches (Italian beef, sausage and hot dogs) through its direct-to-consumer shipping channel in all 50 states. And Texas just happens to be the No. 1 landing point. In turn, Portillo’s will open a flagship store in the Dallas suburbs.

Nor is the brand’s performance based on a single product. Despite being known for its Italian beef (23 percent of sales) and hot dogs / sausages (14 percent of the mix), Portillo’s sold over $ 600,000 worth of salad per restaurant last year. No menu category accounted for more than 23% of sales. His lunch and dinner hours were almost equal as well, with 52% of business taking place during the premiere.

Portillo’s is also stable throughout the week. Before COVID, Monday through Wednesday, all mixed 12% of sales. Thursday is 13%, Friday 17%, Saturday 18% and Sunday 16%.

“I think that’s one aspect of our concept that I love so much,” says Osanloo. “People use us several times every day. “

As important as anything in the future, adds Osanloo, will protect “the ambiance, culture and ambiance in our restaurants”. It starts with a non-negotiable brand standard of having experienced general managers in restaurants (a paying position in the six figures these days). “In the last few years we’ve really been looking at a values-based organization,” says Osanloo. “And so we have our people who have defined our values ​​as family, greatness, energy and fun. … This is what we stand for and what I love now is that this is how we hire.

“Being a value-based organization and only opening restaurants with a Portillo CEO in place is the secret sauce to keeping our culture alive as we expand outside of Chicago. “


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