Portillo’s planning more Wisconsin restaurants

Greenfield, Madison possible locations for popular Chicago chain

Portillos Brookfield
A rendering of the Brookfield Portillos, which is scheduled to open mid-July.

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:03 pm

Popular Chicago restaurant chain Portillo’s Hot Dogs LLC is planning to open at least two additional locations in Wisconsin in 2017, and it has set its sights on Greenfield and Madison.

Portillos Brookfield
A rendering of the Brookfield Portillos, which is now scheduled to open mid-July.

“We continue to look at many different locations throughout Wisconsin,” said Nick Scarpino, director of marketing at Portillo’s. “Nothing to confirm yet, but we’ve been looking.”

Scarpino named Greenfield and Madison as strong possibilities for the next restaurants, but remained mum on other potential locations. Portillo’s tends to build its restaurants in clusters, he said, so an area supervisor can manage the region’s operations.

Portillo’s, which is based in Oak Brook, Ill. and has 42 locations in Illinois, Indiana, Florida, California and Arizona, serves Chicago specialties including Italian beef, Italian sausage and Chicago-style hot dogs, as well as popular menu items such as shakes and chocolate cake. The company requires a two-acre site for one of its restaurants, which are always freestanding, usually between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet, and have a double-lane drive-thru, Scarpino said.

“We need a sizable lot, so for us it’s about finding a great city and community, but it’s also about finding the right spot in that community,” he said. “We actually don’t have a specific target number.”

The restaurant operator is currently building its first Wisconsin location in Brookfield, which is now scheduled to open in mid-July, Scarpino said. The other locations Portillo’s is considering would begin opening sometime in 2017. One of its restaurants takes between six and nine months to build.

“The state of Wisconsin is obviously very large and we’re really looking forward to moving into Wisconsin. We think it has a lot of potential for us,” Scarpino said.

Portillo’s considered building a restaurant in front of the Costco store along Highway 50 in Pleasant Prairie, but may no longer be moving forward with those plans, according to sources. One concern was the fear that the new Portillo’s restaurant in nearby Gurnee, Ill. could cannibalize a Pleasant Prairie location.

Pleasant Prairie officials spoke with Portillo’s leaders about three months ago about a restaurant, but the project hasn’t moved forward since then.

“We know they’re looking, but we don’t know if they’ve landed. At least they haven’t come to us yet,” said Michael Pollocoff, Pleasant Prairie village administrator. “They didn’t get much farther than conceptually showing a box on a piece of paper.”

But while he declined to comment on Pleasant Prairie specifically, Scarpino said Portillo’s hasn’t ruled out any location yet.

“It could be an either/or. It could be all of them,” he said. “If we feel like the timing is right and the city and the lot are right, there’s no reason we wouldn’t open all of them at once. If we can’t find the right spot, we just wouldn’t do it.”

As for which type of sites Portillo’s seeks, Scarpino said a mix of residential and business is key, and the company aims to be near other highly populated retail centers. It’s not opposed to demolishing an existing building on a site, but it always builds restaurants from the ground up.

In Greenfield, a potential site that fits that description would be the 40-acre 84South development currently being developed by Cobalt Partners at I-894 and Layton Avenue. The plans for 84South include more than 300,000 square feet of retail shops and restaurants, and potentially a hotel and 350 market-rate apartments.

Scott Yauck, president and chief executive officer of Cobalt, declined to comment on whether Portillo’s is looking at 84South.

Chuck Erickson, Greenfield community development manager, said he doesn’t know which specific retailers and restaurants Cobalt has courted for 84South. But the location would make sense for a restaurant seeking a two-acre parcel, he said.

“Are there other (possible) locations (for Portillo’s in Greenfield)? Likely yes,” Erickson said. “Off the cuff, a vacant lot that is that size that is properly zoned and is ready to be able to accommodate a use like that…well, there aren’t many vacant lots that maybe would fit that bill.”

The Greenfield plan commission this week recommended that its common council move forward with two buildings on the 84South site—a 123,000-square-foot building known as mid-box west and a 143,000-square-foot building known as mid-box east. Steinhafels plans to occupy mid-box west.

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.