Portillo’s has been around for six decades, but no era in the company’s history matches up to its current growth trajectory.
At a minimum, the brand said it has room for 920 U.S. stores, a more than 50 percent increase above its previous projection of 600. This larger whitespace projection calls for 120 drive-thru-only units and urban-based walk-up locations. These outlets would only appear in markets with six to eight full-scale Portillo’s locations. The brand foresees additional alternative formats in airports, college campuses, and overseas.
Considering the 78-unit fast casual can do one store per 190,000 residents and there are approximately 330 million people in the U.S., the brand marked its total addressable market at 1,700-plus restaurants.
Long-term annual unit growth was bumped from 10-plus percent to 12-15 percent.
“We are a growth story,” CEO Michael Osanloo said during the chain’s Development Day. “We of course have robust economics within our restaurants. Gaudy economics in our restaurants. What makes it really powerful though is we also believe that we are one of the best growth engines in this industry.”
Here’s a look at how Portillo’s has expanded since 2014 when it was acquired by Berkshire Partners for close to $1 billion:
There are several reasons for these enhanced projections, starting with Portillo’s unit economics. The brand earned $8.8 million AUV in the past 12 months—$10.8 million in the Chicago market and $7.1 million in the Sunbelt (Arizona, Texas, and Florida). Even in other midwestern states, AUV is $5.7 million. Portillo’s generating these numbers across multiple geographies gives it confidence in further domestic expansion. There’s no greater example than the first Texas-based restaurant in The Colony, a suburb of Dallas. Opening in January, the store earned $8.5 million through early August. That’s after racking up about $48,000 per day during the first few months.
Even more encouraging for Portillo’s, the chain’s honeymoon curve for new locations (how much sales drop after the initial rush of customers) is flattening at four months and higher levels than restaurants opened during the previous three years.
Other key factors fueling the optimistic growth pattern include the diverse menu, digital and in-store sales drivers, strong value showcased by a $10 average check, and less expensive builds ($5.2 million to $5.5 million per restaurant compared to $7 million in 2022).
“We’re going to keep accelerating profitable growth through restaurant discipline,” Osanloo said. ” … We’re getting really smart about how to spend, when to spend, and where to spend.”
Stores opening in 2025 and beyond will downsize from 7,700 square feet and a 65-foot production line to 5,500 to 6,000 square feet and a 47-foot production line. These units will still have the potential to reach more than $10 million in annual sales but with lower overhead costs. Seating will drop 25 percent to 140-170, parking spaces will decrease more than 20 percent to 85-100, and employee staffing needs will dip almost 15 percent.
Portillo’s expects future restaurants to earn at least $7 million annually by their third year; 3,000-3,500-square-foot drive-thru-only stores will target $4 million by year three.
Meanwhile, existing units are receiving a refresh. Back-of-house salad and beer lines are being merged into the main line to make room for grab-and-go displays and self-serve beverages. These remodels have shown a 24-percentage-point comp sales increase in dine-in desserts and bottled water and a 9-percentage-point hike in fountain drinks. Guest satisfaction is up 3 percentage points. Forty redesigns are planned in 2023 and 2024.
Portillo’s has opened six restaurants in 2023. Four were holdovers from 2022 (Kissimmee, Florida; Tucson, Arizona; The Colony, Texas; and Gilbert, Arizona). The 2023 class began in Q3 with Allen, Texas, and Queen Creek, Arizona. Six more are under construction (three in Chicagoland, two in Texas, and one in Florida). Although not in development yet, there are plans to enter Las Vegas, Denver, and Atlanta in the future. The brand is simply following customers. The 10-year population growth of Texas (3.9 million), Florida (2.9 million), Georgia (1 million), Arizona (800,000), Colorado (650,000), and Nevada (430,000) is much higher than Portillo’s midwestern footprint, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Especially Illinois, where the population decreased by 300,000.
The idea is to fortify new markets within two to three years. Portillo’s will have five Dallas-based outlets by Q1 2023 and six in Houston by the end of 2025. More will be added in Austin and San Antonio.
“New market entries are determined by population growth, Portillo’s shop and ship orders, and per-capita personal income alongside specific market factors such as ease-of-build, potential size of the market, and proximity to other markets,” William Blair analyst Sharon Zackfia said in a note.
More than 300 employees are in the management pipeline waiting to open new restaurants. Additionally, Portillo’s shies away from “big bang” openings, meaning stores begin with dine-in and drive-thru and don’t ramp up to mobile ordering until demand stabilizes. Because of this philosophy and preparation, the 2022 class is seeing satisfaction scores in 30 days that took the 2020 and 2021 classes a year to achieve. Portillo’s is capable of opening three to four restaurants at the same time and up to 30 units per year.
“We’ve done a lot of work on strategic revamps of which markets we’re going after and why and site selection,” Osanloo said. ” … When you put that much capital into the ground—remember we’ve never in our history closed a restaurant—you want to get out of the gates strong. And so we have fine-tuned our new restaurant opening processes. We’ve got SWOT teams that go in there. We know exactly how we want to take care of guests. We know how to train. We can do it now in scale.”