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Portillo’s opens at Randall and Bowes: Elgin’s waistline and wallet expand

Cars line around Portillo's Tuesday during its opening Randall Road Elgin. 
January 15 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

Cars line around Portillo's Tuesday during its opening on Randall Road in Elgin. January 15, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 17, 2013 6:08AM

ELGIN — The city’s belly and billfold both grew a bit bigger Tuesday when Portillo’s restaurant opened at the southwest corner of Randall and Bowes roads.

By 10:30 a.m., a half-dozen cars were waiting in the drive-thru, and about 50 people already were in line inside to place orders. A few dozen employees made and took those requests, including six or so outside with headsets and portable credit card-taking devices, speeding up the process for motorists.

Among the eager indoor patrons was Jennifer Mogilinski who was there to get food for five co-workers at Kohl’s in South Elgin about a mile south on Randall Road.

“We’re very happy this is here and are having them cater a work event Friday,” Mogilinski said. “Their burgers are to die for, and you can’t top their food.”

Mogilinski said she has even shipped Portillo’s care packages to friends and family across the country, and recalled eating at the original location in Villa Park.

Dick Portillo opened that spot in 1963 as The Dog House, a hot dog stand he remodeled and renamed in 1967 as Portillo’s. These days, Portillo said, hot dogs are just a small portion of the business, with burgers and Italian beef outselling them, and salads of all sorts available, too.

“We have an extensive menu,” Portillo said. “You can eat something different here every day. And nothing is made ahead.”

Portillo was at Tuesday’s opening and said it was his 36th Portillo’s restaurant, with another due to open soon in Arizona. Also among his restaurant group’s 49 holdings are Barnelli’s Pasta Bowl locations, Luigi’s House in the Naperville/Aurora area, three Honey Jam Cafe locations and Julian’s Plaza in Bolingbrook.

Portillo said he decided to open in Elgin because of emails from locals that the company was receiving and because of the traffic and exposure the location has. The Elgin Portillo’s shares a development with a Wal-Mart that opened in 2011 and a Sam’s Club which opened last year.

Tuesday’s bustling business was not a formal grand opening but built by word of mouth, Portillo said.

City incentives

Elgin granted the project an economic incentive package that fast-tracked the permit process for construction and waived an estimated $134,000 in development fees.

According to information provided by the city, Portillo’s is one of the highest-grossing fast-casual restaurant groups in the country and realized more than $250 million in sales in 2011. The company estimates that it will generate $7.2 million in revenue from its Elgin restaurant in 2013, while employing at least 120 people in various capacities. At that sales volume, the city should collect $162,000 in sales tax, an amount $28,000 in excess of the incentives.

Portillo’s also is constructing a 16,000-square-foot retail building that faces Bowes Road in the same complex that is set to be occupied by eight tenants.

The 8,400-square-foot Portillo’s is built on a 45 degree angle to the corner of the intersection, so that three building facades are visible from the roads, with a fourth side oriented to the interior of the Wal-Mart-Sam’s Club shopping center, and a sign above the main roof of the building.

It has an outdoor eating area — presently under a heated tent — and a two-lane drive-thru designed to accommodate the traffic that Portillo’s restaurants frequently draw. Since this location is not directly accessible off main roads as is the case in other towns, city officials have said they do not anticipate that there would be need for off-duty patrols to direct traffic as is done in Schaumburg.

The site is designed to draw walkers and bicyclists, too. Special zoning amendments allowed Portillo’s to paint, then distress, six nostalgic graphics on the sides of the building.

Neighbor Nick’s

North across Bowes Road from Portillo’s is Nick’s Pizza & Pub, which opened in 2005. Owner Nick Sarillo is cautiously optimistic about what the new eatery on the block might mean for his business.

Sarillo wrote the book “A Slice of the Pie: How to Build a Big Little Business” about his experiences running two big pizza places (the other is in Crystal Lake), each grossing $3 million annually and which together employ 185, with turnover said to be less than 20 percent annually.

Sarillo’s business made the news in 2011 when, facing a financial crisis, he mass emailed 16,000 customers asking for their support to stay open. Business boomed dramatically for a month or so, helping Sarillo get back on his feet.

Regarding Portillo’s, Sarillo said he expects his business will drop some, as the places share many menu items and Nick’s does 25 percent of its sales from carry-out, but he hopes it returns once the novelty of the new establishment subsides.

“I hope we have a friendly competition, and maybe it will even help as we can feed off of each other and more customers are drawn to the area,” Sarillo said.

Sarillo also hopes his competitor gets involved in the community as Nick’s has, giving $40,000 to Elgin area organizations in 2012 alone.

“We’ll have to stay focused on what we do well, offering the Nick’s experience — the fun and feel of home, and the sense that we’re all a team.”

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