Portillo's is an iconic Chicago institution founded by Dick Portillo in 1963. Originally established as The Dog House and set up as an early day hot dog stand, Portillo's has evolved into a restaurant specializing in Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian Beef sandwiches and is sought out by hot dog devotees when visiting the Chicago area. Portillo's was purchased by a private equity group in 2014 and has expanded to over 41 locations in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana plus Southern California and Arizona.

With expansion came growing pains. The original restaurants featured menu boards and product displays that were hand-painted on vinyl. While original and eye-catching, it was difficult to maintain a consistant look from store to store. The ability to easily update pricing and change out products without recreating a whole new display was not possible; stores had to peel off the old vinyl and hang the new full sheet menus - tedious and time consuming. Adding to the mix was the looming food labeling requirements and the question of how to incorporate calories with pricing and menu listings on their menu board layout.

Cassie Chytracek, Portillo's assistant operations manager, was referred to The Howard Company by a company vice-president. A team meeting was called between Howard Company sales staff and Portillo's management to explore how The Howard could help answer their menu board and display needs as Portillo's looked to expand in new markets.

Discussion and Development

The first topic of discussion was to determine what kind of menu board style would work best in Portillo's restaurants. Their team had researched direct printed PVC material (light weight, easily installed), magnetic (great flexibility to change pricing, calories), and traditional illuminated menu boards. With the unique look of their dining room, they wanted something complimentary to the restaurant atmosphere and offer ease of menu board changes with the most cost-effective design.

A non-illuminated magnetic panel design in an over-sized metal frame was proposed by the Howard sales team. Test options were developed and mounted in new restaurant locations in Rockford, Homewood and Gurnee, IL. The new designs utilized the chalkboard menu listing style of Portillo's original layout, but incorporated metalized graphic panels that could be switched out and replaced as needed.

As the project proceeded, other design needs were addressed. Cabinet "wraps" were created to utilize the surface area above the work spaces. The metalized graphics offer additional marketing options in an otherwise unused surface. Colorful - and large - graphic panels were developed to cover metal hoods over the cooking surfaces. Patio signs fill in the space below the faux roof extension over the counter area. The Howard Company developed solutions for the Portillo's restaurants which expresses their fun and tradition-filled history with guests dining in the restaurants.


The new menu boards and decor created by The Howard Company checks off all the requirements Portillo's searched for: flexible, easy to update with products, pricing and calories while still displaying the fun and playful atmosphere created by Dick Portillo 50 years ago. The original task of creating new menu boards grew beyond that project to include cabinet wraps, hood covers, patio signs, salad bowl menu signs, a location board, and a catering menu board. Future projects include remaking the drive-thru menu board into full graphics (no more strips and price chips) and cash register shrouds.

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The Howard Company is your best resource as you seek out products for your restaurant or retail store. We work with virtually all materials and we are as comfortable indoors as outdoors. Our focus on quality and service sets us apart in our various marketplaces. We want to be your first call when you need advice on your menu systems, Point of Purchase needs, or in-store marketing and merchandising. Our high quality solutions help you focus on building your brand, serving your guests, and selling more product!

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