Aug 24, 2022 - Food and Drink

Portillo's takes indirect swipe at Chicago

Woman walking by Portillo's restaurant
Portillo's in River North reopened for dine-in service in 2020. Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Portillo's is expanding in the Sun Belt, with a Texas debut later this year and additional locations in Florida and Arizona.

  • That should be a point of pride for Chicago, except CEO Michael Osanloo is indirectly criticizing us in the process.

Driving the news: In a recent press blitz, Osanloo said the expansion is driven by local population losses and a stagnant business environment.

  • "We're going to places where the population is growing, where the economy is healthy," Osanloo told Yahoo Finance.
  • He also said that anecdotally, hiring is easier in states such as Florida.

Why it matters: Portillo's started in 1963 in Villa Park and is one of the most successful fast-food restaurants operating today.

  • There are over 40 Portillo's locations in greater Chicago.

What they're saying: "It's a punch in the face," Osanloo said to Bloomberg about the city's population loss.

  • "And it's not like people aren’t building restaurants in Chicago. So it’s a dog fight."

Between the lines: The Bloomberg article implies that because of Chicago's population loss, Portillo's is going the way of Boeing and Citadel by setting up business elsewhere. Yes, but: "While there is certainly increasing competition for restaurants in Chicago — as there would be in any area with urban population decline — Portillo's isn't seeing an impact to sales at our restaurants in the area as a result of that movement," a spokesperson tells Axios.

  • "Our growth across the Sun Belt, and in the Midwest, is part of Portillo's long-term strategy. In addition, we will continue to grow in the greater Chicagoland area at a measured pace."

What's more: Osanloo also told Bloomberg that diners here are more cautious about returning to work and eating indoors during the pandemic.

By the numbers: Portillo's went public last October. After the initial spike, stock prices have dipped in 2022.

Caption: Chart: Axios Visuals
Caption: Chart: Axios Visuals

💭 Justin's thought bubble: Chicagoans love that Portillo's is expanding. The brand is a point of pride. But we're not okay with you blaming us for it!

  • This seems like basic business: If you saturate a market, the uniqueness wears off. Put 40 of any restaurant in Phoenix and see what happens.
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