Yesterday I had the chance to attend a press event at Wisconsin’s very first Portillo’s restaurant which will be opening to the public on Tuesday, July 19th. In attendance were Dick Portillo, the chain’s founder, Keith Kinsey, the current CEO, and Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto. Portillo kicked off the event by giving a brief history of how Portillo’s came to be when he was a young man who had recently concluded his time with the Marine Corp. The crowd moved inside and Portillo, Kinsey, and Ponto took their places at a more traditional press conference style table and began to go into more detail about the history and culture of Portillo’s and how they selected Brookfield as their first WI location.
As the title suggests, I was incredibly impressed with Portillo’s before they even brought out the food. (Amazing, right?) Listening to Dick Portello talk, here is what really impressed me about Portillo’s and its founder:
“It’s a people business.”
This was how Dick Portillo described his restaurant chain. Yes, he is proud of their amazing menu and the quality of food they serve, but he is most proud of the culture he has built. Staff is carefully selected and held to a very high standard. There is a team of over 30 people who travel around training employees so they know exactly what needs to be done and how to do it. Some of the employees have been with company almost since its inception and Portillo’s boasts one of the lowest turnover rates among restaurants of its type, so he is definitely doing something right!
Even before you try any of the food, the menu itself is impressive. I don’t know of another fast, casual dining restaurant that offers the variety that Portillo’s does. It was pointed out that a person could eat at Portillo’s every day of the week, have something different at each meal and STILL not cover the whole menu. For the first time ever, Portillo’s has added a brat to their menu and it is already a hit with the management! (And while you might not think of a beef and hotdog place for dessert, I would make the trip just for the chocolate cake alone!!)
Portillo credits those who have supported him.
While I personally find Portillo’s story inspiring, he is quick to point out those who helped him get to where he is today. He specifically mentioned a man he met while in the Marines (a commander) who he felt helped to shape his understanding of how to treat people. He was later able to bless the man with a “thank you” family vacation and they remain friends to this day. He also spent a long time talking about how grateful he is for the support of his wife, Sharon. Every single one of his restaurants has a sign that says “Dick Loves Sharon” somewhere inside and outside the building. (Yes, that got a collective “awwww”.) Portillo also made it a point to mention that he would not be where is his without help from above which is something we don’t hear enough these days.
Portillo believes in the American Dream.
Portillo spoke about how his story would not have been possible anywhere other than here in America. His Brookfield location is definitely a throwback to the “diner era” and is peppered with signs and messages that convey Portillo’s patriotic side. It feels kind of like coming home, even though you’ve never been there before.
Okay – I know that you are dying to know about the food. We had the chance to sample a number of items from the menu. Personally, I tried the salads, Chicago-style hot dog, beef with sweet peppers, onion rings and chocolate cake. It was all AH-MAZ-ING. Honestly, when they announced Portillo’s was opening in Wisconsin, I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about. I get it now.
I’m looking forward to bringing my family to try Portillo’s and I’m pretty sure Josh is going to insist on going on a Monday night when he hears that is rib night!
Portillo’s is opening to the public on Tuesday, July 19th and bring your patience as I suspect it will be mobbed! (No worries though – the staff is top notch and will take great care of you.) It is located at 17685 W. Bluemound Rd. in Brookfield. You can also connect with Portillo’s Brookfield on their website, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.