Portillo’s is building a franchise with everything on it

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·3 min read
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  • José López Portillo
    President of Mexico (1976–1982)
Portillo's Italian beef sandwiches on cutting board
Portillo's Italian beef sandwiches on cutting board

We at The Takeout adore the restaurant chain Portillo’s. Its Chicago roots, its hot dogs, its Italian beef, its chocolate cake shakes, and even its perfectly fine enough chicken sandwiches—all of it tells the story of local flavors, not to mention the success that catering to Midwest tastes can bring. For the past several years, Portillo’s has found that those tastes extend far beyond the Midwest itself: the chain has expanded to 67 locations in nine different states. And now, the chain has launched an IPO and raised more than $400 million, a sign that the rest of the country might soon see a Portillo’s in their neighborhood.

Under the stock ticker symbol PTLO, Portillo’s stock is currently sitting at a value of $44.22 per share; it even reached $50 on November 4 before slightly declining. But stock prices aren’t nearly as interesting as what they imply about where the brand is headed. Speaking to Nation’s Restaurant News, Portillo’s CEO Michael Osanloo confirmed that the chain has lots of plans for new locations.

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“We’ve identified seven restaurants for ’22,” Osanloo told NRN. “We’re going open two in Arizona, two in Florida. We have one coming in Texas, which I’m really excited about, and then another restaurant in Michigan and Illinois. And then in ’23 we’re targeting nine restaurants.” He added that Ohio might soon see some Portillo’s locations, too.

But Osanloo wants to make sure that all this expansion doesn’t make the experience of visiting a Portillo’s any less personal. If you’ve ever been to a Portillo’s drive-thru, you know that it can be a hellish snarl of traffic at just about any time of day—but one thing is consistent: you’re interacting with humans, not order kiosks.

“You have a human being come up to you and ask you what you want,” Osanloo told NRN. “So if you order a beef sandwich, they’re going to say, ‘Would you like sweet or hot peppers?’ … If you don’t order a chocolate cake, they’re going to tell you, ‘By the way, we make chocolate cake in-house every single day, and I will tell you it’s the best darned chocolate cake ever going to have. So you should try it.’”

Okay, well, I don’t know if my Portillo’s interactions have ever been that chit-chatty, but I see what he’s saying. Portillo’s is a place where humans order from fellow humans, and amid the sea of screens quickly becoming the norm across the fast food industry, I’m sure there are many customers who find that refreshing. I know I do. (My polarized sunglasses make it very hard to see drive-thru screens! I cannot be the only one!) I’m excited for even more cities to have the chance to experience a Chicago-style hot dog. Everyone should try it at least once.

If any of our readers visit a Portillo’s for the first time in 2022, we want to hear all about it. And to all the stockbrokers out there: should we pick up some of these shares, or what?