A look inside the new Portillo's, a Chicago-style hot dog restaurant in Sterling Heights
To celebrate the grand opening March 16, Portillo's will rename the nearby Sterling Heights Halo landmark the 'Golden Onion Ring'
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the first name of Portillo’s founder Dick Portillo.
Sterling Heights — The first Michigan location of longstanding Portillo's Hot Dog restaurants will open March 16, bringing Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, chocolate cake and more to the city's Golden Corridor.
The 7,900-square-foot restaurant on Hall Road is built specifically for the local market, with a garage theme that has nods to the Motor City and Michigan, including a restored 1931 Ford Wrecker hanging from the ceiling of the dining room. Other décor elements include classic record sleeves from hometown heroes like Aretha Franklin and Bob Seger.
The menu is 100% Chicago, though. Founded as a simple doghouse-shaped hot dog stand in the Windy City in 1963, Portillo's sells beef hot dogs in a poppy seed bun topped with mustard, neon green relish, diced onion, tomato, an entire pickle spear, whole sport peppers and dusted with celery salt.
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The fast-casual chain, which is built to service long lines of customers quickly, is also know for its slow-cooked Italian beef sandwiches on French bread, burgers, chicken sandwiches, crinkle-cut fries and famous chocolate cake slices, of which they sell 2 million per year.
Founder Dick Portillo's son Michael Portillo, who was in Sterling Heights Thursday for the media preview, says the chocolate cake (his wife's recipe) has become "quite a phenomenon."
Portillo spoke about his dad starting the hot dog stand with just $1,100 in savings he and his mom had and how Jim Portillo learned from early mistakes and doing research to get the product they sell today.
"People ask me what's so special about Portillo's, what's the secret sauce," he said. "When I look at it, I think, we build phenomenal buildings and it's intentional. What we do is we relish the opportunity to create lifelong memories by igniting the senses with unrivaled food and experiences."
He says the garage theme of the Sterling Heights location is their first.
"Part of the experience is what makes us so special, in my mind, is not just the food, it's the people, it's the experience," he said. "And so to make an experience real and genuine, we try to think of what's special about that area. What's unique to the town, the city the state? We said it's a no-brainer in Michigan. We have to think about cars."
After next month's debut, the Sterling Heights Portillo's will be open for carryout, curbside carryout, drive-thru and delivery through both third-party apps and their own in-house service via the Portillo's app.
They'll keep the indoor dining room closed until Michigan allows for 50% capacity. The state is currently limiting indoor dining and bars and restaurants to 25% due to COVID-19. Normally, this location can seat 180 people inside and out. Director of new restaurant operations for Portillo's Jeff Deppe said this location will hire 120-150 people and is looking for team members now.
Portillo told The Detroit News that they plan to open more restaurants in the area, but the exact site for the next Portillo's hasn't been decided.
"We do have a strategic plan," he said. "We are super excited to be here."
Portillo's Hot Dogs opens March 16 at 14425 Lakeside Circle in Sterling Heights. For fun, they will temporarily rename the Golden Halo landmark the Golden Onion Ring on opening day. Visit portillos.com/sterling-heights for more information, including how to sign up for a preview opportunity.