Portillo's is a terrific fast casual restaurant chain predominantly in the Chicagoland area. It's a true Chicago original, famous for its hot dogs, Italian beef, and chocolate cake. And it's reportedly for sale.
Since I don't have a spare hundred million dollars lying around to make a bid, I'd like to share a few big ideas for the next owner on how to take Portillo's to the next level. I spent three summer and winter breaks from school working at my local Portillo's. I loved working there and I still love eating there.
So to the next owner of Portillo Restaurant Group: here are three big ideas for you. We should chat sometime soon:
- Expand to Illinois' biggest college towns.
Portillo's is extremely popular among young people — especially high school students. And 33 out of 38 Portillo's restaurants are in the Chicagoland area. Yet, Portillo's doesn't have a single restaurant in Illinois college towns like Urbana-Champaign, Carbondale, or Normal. That's where most Chicagoland high school students go after graduation, so this is a no-brainer.
- Bring the chocolate cake to grocery store aisles.
Ask anyone in the Chicagoland area where to get the best chocolate cake, and I'll bet the majority says Portillo's. "Portillo's Famous Chocolate Cake" is a best-seller at the restaurant because it tastes so darn good. It's time to expand distribution to grocery stores and extend the product line by creating cupcakes, brownies, and other chocolate goodies.
Dick Portillo owns and operates every one of his restaurants. This has enabled him to maintain his high standards over time. But it has also limited his growth opportunities. It's time to place bets in some highly qualified franchisees and take this business across the country. Franchising has been done well by many restaurant brands and Portillo's is the next great franchise opportunity.
Add This to Your To-Do List
What advice would you give to the next owner of Portillo's? Where am I wrong? Where am I right?
There's never a lack of ideas.