Dick Portillo, founder of the enormously successful Portillo’s restaurant chain, talked about his career and life during a recent appearance at Elmhurst College.
During “From Hot Dogs to Top Dog: A Conversation With Dick Portillo,” the restaurateur spoke with his good friend Lee Daniels, senior advisor to the president of Elmhurst College, in front of a capacity audience of about 800 in Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel on November 22.
Portillo described what it was like to open his first eatery in 1963—a hot dog stand on North Avenue in Villa Park that he built with the $1,100 that he and his wife, Sharon, had saved for their first house. The Dog House was a 6’x12’ trailer without a bathroom or running water. And Portillo didn’t know how to make a hot dog.
Four years later, the stand was remodeled and renamed for its owner. Since then, Portillo’s has grown into a multi-state, fast-casual restaurant chain with a wide-ranging menu of all-American favorites and highly regarded customer-service and business models. With restaurants in Southern California, Indiana and Arizona, the Portillo’s chain was sold to the private equity firm Berkshire Partners in 2014.
As a consultant, Portillo continues to be very much involved in the business as he helps guide its growth into Wisconsin, Florida and other states over the next several years. A recipient of numerous awards, he actively supports the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton, California, where he once was stationed as a Marine, as well as the Chicago Diabetes Project, because of his wife’s struggle with the disease.