Portillo’s New Pacesetter

With three drive-thru lanes and no dining room, the Chicago-born brand covers new ground in Joliet, Ill.

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Courtesy of Portillo's

In 1963, Dick Portillo made a modest entry into the hot dog game, dishing Vienna red hots, tamales, soda and french fries from a 6-foot x 12-foot trailer with no running water. He parked it in Villa Park, Ill., and dubbed it the “Dog House.”

Fast forward five-plus decades, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Chicagoan who hasn’t traveled to a (slightly more sophisticated) Portillo’s in pursuit of the eatery’s craveable classics, from cake shakes and cheese fries, to chopped salads, Italian beef and Chicago-style dogs.

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But, “Dog House” aside, Portillo’s 70-plus locations have always had a dining room, and its drive-thrus never surpassed two lanes up until this February, when it opened a 3,750-square-foot pickup-only concept in Joliet, Ill. There, the drive-thru spans three wide, with the outermost lane fulfilling digital orders, while the building’s interior houses pickup shelves and a catering pickup area flocked by vintage photos.

“We quickly learned how to reorganize the pickup area to be more efficient on our end and make the process simpler and clearer for all our guests,” says Maria Reichl, vice president of field operations at Portillo’s. Ultimately, Portillo’s Pick Up separated the order assembly stations, with one area focused on drive-thru and drive-thru pickup orders, and another area focused on inside pickup.

ON THE GO

Thus far, the six-month-young concept is seeing digital preorder volume in line with that at other Portillo’s, Reichl tells FER.

The back-of-house closely mimics that of any other Portillo’s, albeit a leaner staffing model, and a dishwasher marks the only equipment add-on, says Reichl.

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“Portillo’s is an experiential brand, so we put a lot of thought into how we bring that experience outside the building.” —Maria Reichl, Portillo’s

PortillosJolietIL 12From the drive-thru—where the bulk of this Portillo’s orders are placed and fulfilled thus far—guests can pick up on the racecar theme, with a red racecar once driven by NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. proudly on display. “Portillo’s is an experiential brand, so we put a lot of thought into how we bring that experience outside the building,” Reichl says.

As far as replicating the leaner Portillo’s concept elsewhere, Reichl says the brand is “continuing to get valuable experience from this new model.”

“We’ve always said that we would open the Portillo’s Pick Up in Joliet and learn from it first before we consider opening additional small-format locations,” she says.

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