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Portillo’s, preparing to go public, could grow to 600 restaurants nationwide

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A chocolate cake and drink from Portillo's are shown in this file photo. 

CHICAGO — Portillo’s has big plans to take its Italian beef sandwiches, hot dogs and chocolate cake shakes nationwide.

The Oak Brook-based fast casual chain, which announced plans to go public earlier this summer, said it believes it could eventually grow from 67 restaurants to more than 600 over the next 25 years, and is “well-positioned for global growth in the future,” according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The form, filed by companies planning to go public, also gave a closer look at Portillo’s financial performance and growth ambitions.

The company has locations in Normal, Springfield and Champaign. 

A survey found that Gen Z and millennial Americans are spending more money now than they did before the pandemic. Nearly 70% of respondents are now spending money on things they missed because of the pandemic. Over half of the people surveyed have splurged on a trip away. 49% are spending money on fancy food and drinks at restaurants and bars. It was also found that six in ten respondents are more financially confident now than before the pandemic. This is due to their desire to be more financially responsible. 61% of people managed to save at least $1,000 since the pandemic started in 2020

Portillo’s said its individual restaurant sales averaged $7.9 million during the year that ended June 27. That’s higher than competitors — Chick-fil-A, another standout performer, was estimated to see average restaurant sales of more than $4 million while open six days a week last year, said Mark Brandau, group manager at Chicago-based food industry research firm Datassential.

Portillo’s Chicago-area restaurants fared even better, averaging $9.1 million in sales during the year that ended June 27.

The pandemic still affected sales, with the average restaurant’s dine-in sales dropping from $4.4 million in 2019 to $1.9 million during the year that ended June 27, according to the filing. Drive-thru sales, however, rose from $3.4 million to $4.9 million and delivery sales jumped from $500,000 to $850,000.

“It’s got to be one of those restaurant brands that’s the closest you can get to a sure bet,” Brandau said.

Founder Dick Portillo started the business in 1963, selling hot dogs from a trailer dubbed “The Dog House” in a parking lot in Villa Park. Today the company has 67 restaurants across nine states, up from 40 locations in 2015, one year after Portillo sold the chain to private equity firm Berkshire Partners.

Portillo’s said it plans to increase its number of restaurants by about 10% a year.


A steady stream of cars stands outside Portillo's Hot Dogs, 202 Landmark Drive, Normal, on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.

As it grows, it will the face the same hurdle as the rest of the industry: a shortage of workers. When Datassential asked restaurant operators what was keeping them from expanding as quickly as they’d like, they were far more likely to cite challenges finding and keeping employees than their finances, Brandau said.

The chain’s wide-ranging menu, however, should perform well as it broadens its reach, Brandau said, even if Chicagoans think of Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago-style hot dogs as local specialties.

Portillo’s said no single category accounted for more than 23% of its sales in 2020, with Italian beef the top seller. Fries and other sides accounted for 16% of sales, followed by hot dogs and sausages, at 14%. Salads made up 9% of sales, desserts like chocolate cake 5%, followed by pasta, ribs and chicken at 4%.


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