Michael Portillo has a lot to do, so he didn’t get the opportunity to join a book club.
But the manager of Portillo’s Restaurants made an exception when he stopped by New Lenox Portillo’s restaurant a few weeks ago to speak with members of the Orland Park-based Smith Crossing Men’s Book Club.
Club members were meeting to discuss “Out of the Dog House,” the 107th book by Portillo’s founder, Dick Portillo, and Don Yaeger, which they read together.
Michael is the son of Dick Portillo and was part of the success story of the business’s growth, which began with a $1,100 investment and grew into a billion-dollar asset with restaurants, properties, and more.
But the book club experience at New Lenox was a first for the young Portillo.
“It was great, I didn’t know what to expect,” Michael said. “I hope I answered your questions.”
Book club founder Tom Ryan, who developed some business chops as a regional sales manager for State Farm Insurance who oversees more than 150 agents, said Portillo responded well to them.
“That was great,” Ryan said. “This is the first time we meet one of the books we read face to face.”
Some of the questions from club members, some of whom also had a work background, focused on the job itself.
Topics such as employee motivation, transition to a publicly traded company in 2014, development trends and decisions were covered.
Others have delved deeper into the franchise’s history. One member wondered if the original Dog House had plumbing or a toilet.
did not have.
Coincidentally, Portillo recently reread the book published in 2018 and liked it even more in the second round.
“I was like okay when I first read it, I couldn’t put it together like that, but it was okay,” he told the group. “Then I was asked to read it again by a friend who is also our manager.
“I read it again about two months ago, and actually this time I got more out of it than I did during the whole process.”
Portillo, 63, said that when he read it again, he was able to digest it and truly understood it. At the age of 23, he learned a little more about what life was like for his father and what he had learned over the years.
He said his 83-year-old father is “busier than ever” and has worked on four or five different projects for Berkshire Partners, including shopping malls, warehouses and apartments.
But most people know the company for its restaurants. 60 years after the franchise’s humble beginnings in 1963 in a 12-foot trailer called The Dog House on North Avenue in Villa Park, there are now more than 70 Portillos nationwide.
Those who pass wildly successful restaurants and see huge queues of cars even late in the evening may be surprised that Dick Portillo and his new venture seem to fail from Day 1.
“When she opened their doors, she immediately knew they didn’t know how to make hot dogs,” said Michael Portillo. “They didn’t know that in Chicago you steam donuts and things like that.
“The opening day was a disaster. The food was terrible. My mother said. “Oh my God, we’re going to lose everything.”
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That didn’t happen, and Portillo told book club members that his father did everything he could to learn about the product and customer service.
His son said that even when he was building a restaurant empire, Dick Portillo never let his head get too big.
The founder of the company was at the grand opening of Portillo in Streamwood and it was packed with people wanting to come in.
Fifteen minutes after the doors opened, Dick Portillo was getting ready to leave.
“There’s a line out the door and he says, ‘I’ll be right back,'” Michael Portillo said. “She was going down the street to go somewhere, I don’t remember her name – let’s call it Joe’s Hot Dogs. Maybe it was a little hot dog place with eight seats.
“Remember, son, I was that little man,” he said. “Fear that little man,” he said. They are the learners.’ He taught me this lesson a long time ago. Never be satisfied. Never be satisfied. Always watch out for your opponents.”
Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.