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Man Travels Country to Make Portillos' Openings, Including New Lenox

La Grange resident Pete Robinson was at the Portillo's opening Tuesday in New Lenox, and he's been going to the restaurant's openings since the mid-1980s.

Crowds of well-wishers and hungry customers gathered for the grand opening of Portillo's Restaurant in New Lenox on Tuesday, including one man who's been going to openings 

After the official ribbon cutting ceremony and welcome speeches, long-time fans of the restaurant made their way into the 7,800-square-foot facility and headed straight to the food order line.

Pete Robinson, a retired railroad employee from La Grange, traveled to New Lenox to attend the grand opening ceremony. He's been going to Portillo's openings regularly since the mid-1980s, including two in California and numerous spots in Illinois. Already he plans for the Feb. 15 grand opening of a Portillo's in Arizona, he said.

Check back tomorrow for more photos from the Portillo's opening in New Lenox. 

And while he loves the food and the friendly service, Robinson's history with restaurant owner, Dick Portillo, dates back to 1964. It was a year after Portillo opened his first food operation—a hot dog stand/trailer that was parked on North Avenue in Villa Park.

"I was 16 at the time and just got my driver's license. We all climbed into the family Buick, and I drove to Portillo's," Robinson said.

"I remember Mr. Portillo and his wife working there," he said. "That's when you could get two hot dogs and a tamale, and large pop for $1 and 2 cents for tax. I remember Mr. Portillo would always say, 'you're just a kid and you're working; I'll pay the tax.'"

Well Portillo's 2 cents meant a lot to Robinson. "I never forgot it."

Over the years Robinson remained a loyal Portillo's enthusiast and gained a long-lasting friendship. The two are great friends. His attendance at grand openings is just for fun.

New Lenox's Karl Olsen is another fan of the restaurant.

"I've been coming to Portillo's for 22 years," Olsen said. "I'm so grateful that now it's in town, and I don't have to go to Tinley Park for it."

TCF Bank Manager Maria Pogliano showed up to support the new business. She reflected on the fact that Portillo responded to an April outcry by a couple of local restaurant owners over a promised tax incentive offered by the village to secure the new business. Because he respected New Lenox as a community, Portillo gave up the incentive package.

"I respect what he did, foregoing the tax break," Pogliano said.

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Kyle Williams September 19, 2012 at 01:37 PM
2 % tax on food. That's the REAL story. What are the crooks doing with all our cash ?
Susan September 19, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Giving people like Balderman huge sums of money to do NOTHING!
Charles Reasoner September 20, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Without the Economic Stimulus & Recovery Act of 2009 (a.k.a. "Obama's Stimulus pcakage) Route 30 does not get widened and Portillo and others probably don't bring their business here, and jobs wouldn't have been created.
Kyle Williams September 20, 2012 at 05:19 PM
I hope I can support my family on part-time wages (without benefits) at a hot dog stand. At least we can eat the throw-away dogs at the end of the day....
Kyle Williams September 20, 2012 at 05:22 PM
That section Rt 30 was widened before Obummer took office. As was Walmart area- they just decided to tear it up and do it correctly the second time, i guess.

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