Peoria Breaks Ground for Chicago-Style Eatery

Dec 13, 2017

Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

Peoria government and business leaders helped break ground on the highly-publicized Portillo’s Restaurant Wed. The national chain is opening a location across from Northwoods Mall. The business is already stirring mixed reactions.

Portillo’s marketing team orchestrated an elaborate event that included a heated tent and Italian Beef brought in from its location in Bloomington-Normal.

The restaurant in Peoria will be one of the company’s 53 locations, spread across seven states. CEO Keith Kinsey says each groundbreaking and franchise opening turns out die-hard fans.

“It’s great to be here, it’s great to see such excitement, we love that,” Kinsey said. “It’s important for us for people understand that we are part of the community”

Kinsey has been CEO since 2015, when founder Dick Portillo sold the company to a private equity firm. He says bringing the chain to Peoria was “a little unique”…

“In the fact that it took a lot longer than I would have liked...but once we got all the pieces together, it’s well worth the effort. And as you can tell today, the reception that we’re getting from the community is outstanding.”

Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

The delay stems from disagreement over a tax incentive for the developer. Peoria City Council ultimately approved a special service area that creates a one-percent sales tax that goes to the developer.

“I certainly understand the concerns that people had about the one-percent sales tax," Councilman Jim Montelongo, who represents the 4th district where Portillo’s is locating, said.

“Without the SSA we probably wouldn’t have seen this type of development happen, it’s going to be a great thing,” Montelongo said. “They’ve got a track record, a great following, overall it’s going to be a great thing for Peoria.”

Just across the parking lot, burgers are already sizzling on the grill at Louie’s Sterling Family Restaurant. Owner, Louie Trilikis says he’s not worried about having a new neighbor.

“Matter of fact, Portillo’s is going to help me. But the point is, he shouldn't get that money from the city. Period.”

Trilikis, a native of Greece, opened his diner about 30 years ago. He says he paid the startup costs with his own money.

“The city didn’t come over here and ask me how I’m going to pay my bills, and I’m surviving and I’m going on,” Trilikis said.

Louie's Sterling Family Restaurant sits next to the Portillo's site.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

Trilikis says he think the city should support small businesses, not billion dollar corporations.

Another restaurant owner Dan Kouri shares similar frustrations.

Kouri owns Kouri’s Pub, a Sonic franchise and the Lariat Steakhouse, all within a one-mile stretch of the Portillo’s site. His family has owned the Lariat for 47 years. It was one of the first restaurants in the area.

“And not once have we taken a penny from the city,” Kouri said.

His father Louis Kouri started Lariat as a parent, with four young children and a fifth on the way.

“He made it work, and he really was rewarded with the growth of the city of Peoria and its Northwestern movement,” Kouri said.

Kouri says he’s worried about how the decision was handled and how it will affect future developments.

“The sales tax is not going to make or break Portillo’s. They wanted that site, the owner came and hand-picked that site. So they were coming,” Kouri said. “It sets a bad precedent when they turn around and give money out like that.”

Nevertheless, Kouri says, he’s glad to see a new business in the area. He adds, any Portillo’s customers who want to wash down their Italian Beef with a beer, are welcome at his pub.