Portillo’s continued to march beyond its Chicago-area hometown, announcing plans Friday to open its 50th restaurant next July in Minnesota.
The restaurant, in the St. Paul suburb of Woodbury, Minn., will represent the chain’s seventh state, as Portillo’s continues to test its viability outside its home base.
“It’s a growing city, a growing economy. There’s a strong educational piece,” Portillo’s CEO Keith Kinsey told Nation’s Restaurant News. “I think it’s a great match up there.”
Oak Brook, Ill.-based Portillo’s has increased its push beyond the Chicago area since its sale in 2014 to the private-equity firm Berkshire Partners.
Portillo’s, which boasts huge restaurants with high unit volumes of nearly $9 million, has largely followed Chicago visitors and expats into new markets. Portillo’s has a thriving mail-order business, and uses sales through its website to find markets where it has an established customer base.
Minnesota fits that definition to a tee. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has its share of former Chicago residents. And many residents take the 45-minute flight, or six-hour drive, to Chicago, where they routinely visit Portillo’s locations. That gives the chain plenty of brand awareness there.
Portillo’s has locations in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, in addition to Florida, Arizona and California, where many Chicago residents move or retire.
“We align it where there’s already some brand awareness,” Kinsey said. “We see who is ordering and having it shipped to them. You keep building the analog bigger. The brand has those legs, and every time you go further out, it carries [the analog] further out and more people know about the brand.”
The opening will also represent a major milestone for the chain, which will open three other restaurants before it opens the Woodbury location.
“It’s kind of sinking in,” Kinsey said. “It will sink in even more when we get up there and do it.”
Online sales help, rather than hurt, new openings. Locations in new markets see the same strong unit volumes for which the chain has become known. In addition, new locations don’t seem to be hurting the online sales, either.
“They still seem to be very strong as we go to other places,” Kinsey said. Because Portillo’s uses the online sales to get consumers to try the brand, “it creates an early brand awareness.” In turn, new units further improve brand awareness and help lift online sales.