NORMAL — Normal Mayor Chris Koos gave Portillo's his usual advice for new Twin City restaurants Thursday — but it may have been more true than usual.
"Whatever your projections were, they're low," he said. "Normal, and Bloomington, is more than ready for Portillo's to be here."
Minutes later, officials for the Chicago-style hot dog chain broke ground at its future site at 202 Landmark Drive in Normal.
The restaurant is expected to open in August with a 9,000 square-foot building, a double drive-thru lane, seating for 250 and a 1920s Chicago gangster theme. It will employ 200 at opening and 150 over the long term, and many of those will be part time.
Portillo's CEO Keith Kinsey told The Pantagraph after the ceremony the restaurant is already hiring for some positions, and he encouraged potential applicants to keep an eye on portillos.com for more opportunities.
Residents should watch for a trial run before the location officially opens, he added.
"We just started really expanding outside Chicago and found in Central Illinois, Bloomington-Normal is a great place to be part of that," Kinsey said. "A lot of people are transplants from Chicago. You've got a great university. ... It's just a perfect community for Portillo's."
Of whether Portillo's might open a second Bloomington-Normal location, Kinsey said the community "is a perfect size" for just one restaurant.
"That's why it was so important for us to find the right location (in) what I call the focal point of the community. This is absolutely the focal point of the community," he said of the Veterans Parkway spot. "It's a perfect combination of all the things, when you think of restaurants, that you want to be a part of."
The chain also considered a location near The Shoppes at College Hills before opting for what was then a Motel 6 site. The motel was demolished this month to make way for Portillo's.
The town of Normal has agreed to give developer Bloomington Landmark $1.875 million in future sales tax receipts from the restaurant — a cost of as much as $2.5 million with interest — to subsidize demolition and construction.
Bloomington Landmark, which includes frequent Normal developer Tartan Realty Group and its president, Doug Reichl, will own the property and lease it to Portillo's for $220,000 per year.
Novak Construction of Chicago is building the restaurant.
Portillo's, based in suburban Oak Brook, announced last April it would open a Normal location. The company has since started building a Champaign restaurant that is set to open next month as its first downstate eatery.
Koos, who stood next to Kinsey during the groundbreaking, flanked by Normal City Council members, wished the company "best of luck" in Normal.
"(Portillo's is) legendary, and now it's in our community," he said.