Crowds of well-wishers and hungry customers gathered for the grand opening of Portillo's Restaurant in New Lenox on Tuesday, including one man who's been going to openings
After the official ribbon cutting ceremony and welcome speeches, long-time fans of the restaurant made their way into the 7,800-square-foot facility and headed straight to the food order line.
Pete Robinson, a retired railroad employee from La Grange, traveled to New Lenox to attend the grand opening ceremony. He's been going to Portillo's openings regularly since the mid-1980s, including two in California and numerous spots in Illinois. Already he plans for the Feb. 15 grand opening of a Portillo's in Arizona, he said.
And while he loves the food and the friendly service, Robinson's history with restaurant owner, Dick Portillo, dates back to 1964. It was a year after Portillo opened his first food operation—a hot dog stand/trailer that was parked on North Avenue in Villa Park.
"I was 16 at the time and just got my driver's license. We all climbed into the family Buick, and I drove to Portillo's," Robinson said.
"I remember Mr. Portillo and his wife working there," he said. "That's when you could get two hot dogs and a tamale, and large pop for $1 and 2 cents for tax. I remember Mr. Portillo would always say, 'you're just a kid and you're working; I'll pay the tax.'"
Well Portillo's 2 cents meant a lot to Robinson. "I never forgot it."
Over the years Robinson remained a loyal Portillo's enthusiast and gained a long-lasting friendship. The two are great friends. His attendance at grand openings is just for fun.
New Lenox's Karl Olsen is another fan of the restaurant.
"I've been coming to Portillo's for 22 years," Olsen said. "I'm so grateful that now it's in town, and I don't have to go to Tinley Park for it."
TCF Bank Manager Maria Pogliano showed up to support the new business. She reflected on the fact that Portillo responded to an April outcry by a couple of local restaurant owners over a promised tax incentive offered by the village to secure the new business. Because he respected New Lenox as a community, Portillo gave up the incentive package.
"I respect what he did, foregoing the tax break," Pogliano said.