Following years of speculation about whether Portillo’s would open a location in Springfield, the fast-casual restaurant based in Oak Brook, Illinois, plans to open its 66th location in Springfield on Dec. 8. The brand has existing central Illinois restaurants in Peoria, Champaign and Normal.
“We’ve been excited to come here for a long time,” said Jeff Deppe, director of new restaurant operations for Portillo’s. He confirmed that Springfield had been on the company’s radar for several years, but noted that the chain is notoriously selective about sites. “We wait for the right location and the right deal,” he said.
When the former Walgreens property in Parkway Pointe became available, it offered strong traffic counts along Veterans Parkway and easy interstate access, and Deppe said the company was already familiar with the property owner. “We’ve worked with this landlord before in a couple other towns, and we a got a great deal,” he said.
While the Parkway Pointe area is already notorious for traffic jams, Deppe said Portillo’s is working closely with the City of Springfield and plans to hire traffic wardens to help keep vehicles moving efficiently at the location.
The 7,800-square-foot building is actually slightly smaller than Portillo’s typical 10,000-11,000 square foot restaurant. The diner-style interior pays homage to Historic Route 66, and Deppe noted that Mayor Jim Langfelder requested that the Springfield location be the 66th to open.
The restaurant will initially open only for drive-thru or delivery, and Deppe said while he hopes to begin dine-in service sometime over the winter, there is no firm date for that due to the uncertainly resulting from COVID-19. Portillo’s is now offering “self-delivery,” meaning their own employees deliver within a three-mile radius of the restaurant, rather than partnering with third-party providers, in order to insure the same level of customer service. The new location will employ 16 drivers, in anticipation of a strong demand for delivery service.
The Springfield restaurant has already hired approximately 120 employees but plans to have 150 on staff by opening day. “It’s been pretty challenging,” said Deppe of not being able to bring together large groups for training. “We’ve designed a new training system with smaller group sizes to limit the number of people in the building at one time.”
Those who can’t wait for opening day can get a tase of Portillo’s from the Portillo’s Beef Bus, which began operating for lunch and dinner on weekdays starting Nov. 10. The food truck will serve Portillo’s Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef, cheese fries and beverages.