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Portillo's treats a few to taste of Chicago

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Karen and Jim O'Laughlin came from Chicago to Woodbury five years ago. They are addicted to Portillo's. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)2 / 13
CEO Keith Kinsey speaks in front of local cable TV cameras Jan. 11. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)3 / 13
Portillo's is coming soon to Woodbury. The restaurant, which held a groundbreaking ceremony Jan. 11, will be located near Cabela's. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)4 / 13
Promise: This is the shortest line people will enjoy while waiting for popular Portillo's food. There was a small sampling Jan. 11 during a groundbreaking ceremony in Woodbury. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)5 / 13
Portillo's is coming soon to Woodbury. The restaurant, which held a groundbreaking ceremony Jan. 11, will be located near Cabela's. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)6 / 13
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Portillo's is coming soon to Woodbury. The restaurant, which held a groundbreaking ceremony Jan. 11, will be located near Cabela's. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)8 / 13
Woodbury Mayor Guiliani Stephens and Portillo's CEO Keith Kinsey ushered in a new era for the Chicago-based restaurant. The Woodbury location will be its first in Minnesota. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)9 / 13
Alex Amble Gravdahl of Woodbury takes his first bite of Portillo's famous chocolate cake. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)10 / 13
Nick Scarpino, vice president for marketing of Portillo's, speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Chicago-based restaurant. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)11 / 13
Keith Kinsey, CEO of Portillo's, speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Chicago-based restaurant. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)12 / 13
Keith Kinsey, CEO of Portillo's, speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for the Chicago-based restaurant. (Bulletin photo by Mathias Baden)13 / 13

Let a new addiction begin.

Portillo's brought its first Italian beef sandwiches, Italian sausages, pasta, chef salad, and chocolate cake to Woodbury for a select crowd to taste on Jan. 11.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the first Minnesota restaurant of the Chicago-based chain took place in a chilly popup tent near Cabela's, on 4 acres where the 208-seat restaurant is scheduled to open in July.

Keith Kinsey, chief executive officer, complimented the 50-year-old city of Woodbury on "not just what you do, but how you do it. The other thing that's ironic is that this is our 50th restaurant, so it's got to be right—50 years, 50 restaurants."

Portillo's is targeting an early July opening near the intersection of Radio Drive and Hudson Road.

Jim and Karen O'Laughlin, transplanted from Chicago who have lived in Woodbury for five years, welcomed the restaurant by sampling the Italian beef.

They stood in the shortest line for Portillo's that they've ever enjoyed.

Karen's childhood home in suburban Chicago was not far from the humble hot dog stand where Portillo's started during the early '60s.

Since then, she's engaged in "a 50-year addiction," Jim said, noting that every trip to Chicago include a stop at Portillo's.

Kinsey said he's proud and happy to be bringing the restaurant to Woodbury, where the neighboring business districts at CityPlace and Tamarack Village are thriving. The Woodbury restaurant will stand as an example for further expansion into Minnesota and Wisconsin, Kinsey said. "This is such a great place."

There are few buildings in Woodbury akin to is proposed at Portillo's, an historic-looking building that will feature hand-painted Gold Medal emblem and Pillsbury label on the all-brick facade.

Inside, the decor will mirror 1920s and '30s Prohibition with images of Chicago gangsters on the walls and a Portillo's truck suspended above the dining room, said Nick Scarpino, vice president for marketing.

"Thanks for choosing Woodbury. We appreciate your investment in the community," Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens said.

She offered nods to community development director Dwight Picha, assistant community development director Janelle Schmitz and senior planner Eric Searles, as well as the seven managers among 200 employees Portillo's will bring to Woodbury, the restaurant's propensity to promote from within, and its emphasis on quality, service, attitude and cleanliness.

"I tell you, I love restaurants," Kinsey said. "It's all about getting in there and dealing with people."

Local guests make a connection with the food at Portillo's, Kinsey said. "There's a flavor and spice, it makes you feel good inside."

With a hint toward her heritage, Stephens said: "Who doesn't like anything Italian!"

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