NORMAL — Jacob Kilby couldn't think of a better way to end his summer vacation than biting into the first Portillo's chili dog sold in Bloomington-Normal.

"We thought it would be a fun thing before school starts tomorrow (at Normal Community High School) to do as a friend group," said Kilby, who staked out the restaurant starting at 6 a.m. on opening day. "I usually get hamburgers, but I wanted to try something new."

That effort placed Kilby and six friends among the first customers at the Oak Brook-based chain's new Normal restaurant after it opened at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

About 100 customers lined up to celebrate the 202 Landmark Drive location's public debut and get a Chicago-style hot dog fix. The debut came after a few days of "training meals" served free of charge to invited guests.

The highly anticipated restaurant proved ready for the crowd, including with parking. Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said officers were tracking traffic though they weren't out directing it, which "unduly puts officers at risk."

Before the restaurant opened, local officials gathered outside for a ribbon cutting. The town of Normal has agreed to give developer Bloomington Landmark $1.875 million in future sales tax receipts from the restaurant — up to $2.5 million with interest — to subsidize demolition of the motel that was on the site and construction of the new building.

Others at the opening included:

• Pete Robinson of Waterman, who has eaten at every Portillo's, usually on its first day, and was the first customer served Tuesday.

"The one in Greenfield, Wis., I unfortunately did not make the opening because I was having heart surgery. ... I tried to put it off for another week, but the doctor didn't think that was too funny," he said. "This is number 51. ... I've eaten at Portillo's that aren't anymore."

Robinson, who owns his own business, handed out buttons commemorating the occasion. Attendees also got red Portillo's T-shirts and plastic sunglasses.

"The first order is always a hot dog, no peppers, no relish; a tamale; and a large Diet Coke. But aside from that, I eat everything because nothing on the Portillo's menu is not spectacular," he said. "I wouldn't miss this. Nothing's more important than Portillo's."

• Lisa Tyler of Dwight, who brought her whole family to the opening.

"This is our adventure day," she said. "We go shopping in Bloomington all the time. ... We'll be back probably three or four times a month."

Lisa and her daughter, Donna, said their first orders would be their usual:  a hot dog and a grilled chicken sandwich, respectively.

It was the first Portillo's visit for Donna's baby daughter, Jessica Mckittrick.

"This is the next generation," said Lisa with a laugh.

• Tria Beverly of Bloomington, the first drive-thru customer.

Beverly said she's been waiting for 10 years for Portillo's to come to the Twin Cities. She first went to the restaurant on Chicago's south side.

"I'll be back here tomorrow after I get off work," she said.

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh


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