FISHERS – Two nights before leaving for his honeymoon, Wes Becu spent more than 12 hours away from his new wife to camp out in a parking lot for Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and chocolate cake.
He arrived at the new Portillo’s restaurant in Fishers, Indiana, at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday with some blankets, water, a camping chair and an iPad. He was 2 years old for his first Portillo’s experience and was excited to see the chain come to Fishers, where he moved about a year ago.
Portillo’s is a Chicagoland-based restaurant chain most famous for their hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, chocolate cake and restaurant atmosphere. Each restaurant has different relics like old-fashion cars, posters, crates and lights.
Becu said Portillo’s provided him with a meal during his campout, but he still planned a big meal for opening day: Italian beef “dipped” in gravy, a Chicago dog, a chili cheese dog, cheese fries and a chocolate cake shake.
“There’s nothing like it.”
Customers took one step into the restaurant and entered the past. The Fishers location is Prohibition-era themed, with neon signs telling visitors where to order and pick up their food. Workers take and make orders in white uniform shirts, black or red caps and black aprons with “Portillo’s” woven into the fabric.
Hundreds of people threaded around tables decorated with checkered cloths and centerpieces displaying the menu items. Posters on the walls advertised movies and food from the early 1900s, as well as Portillo’s own food, in faded styles to create a unified look. Red, blue and yellow neon stars on the ceiling and other neon signs around the restaurant gave off a drive-in diner vibe.
A 1918 Ford Model T is suspended from the ceiling where customers enter and was originally driven to the restaurant, Portillo’s marketing manager Marc Trevino said in an email.
Some expressed concern about the length of the line that awaited them as they walked through the doors, though others were assured that the food was well worth a 15-30 minute wait.
For many Chicago natives, the food is even worth hours-long car rides.
Just three weeks ago, Mitch Farner, a Fishers man, drove to Merrillville, Indiana, for the sole purpose of ordering two Italian beef and sausage combo sandwiches and a whole chocolate cake. The trip takes about two hours each way, but Farner said his knack for speed makes the drive much shorter.
“You can’t get this type of food anywhere else,” he said.
Pete Robinson, the second man in line Thursday, has gone across the country from California to Minnesota from his home state of Illinois to visit all 52 Portillo’s establishments.
His first order at a grand opening is always the same: a hot dog, no peppers, no relish; a tamale and a large diet coke.
That’s just his first order, though.
“I didn’t say I’m not going to have cake later,” Robinson said.
This order comes from Robinson’s order at “The Dog House” in 1964, according to an interview he did for the Portillo’s website. A year prior, Dick Portillo had opened the stand with money he and his wife had been saving for a house with a white-picket fence.
Since the stand opened over 50 years ago, Portillo’s has become a staple of Chicago-style food.
Craig Lucas first visited The Dog House in 1965. His father owned a lawn service, and it became a tradition for him to get a hot dog every Sunday after cutting lawns.
Fifty years later and now living in Fishers, Lucas stood in line for hours Thursday morning for the new location opening. A replica of The Dog House was just across the parking lot from him as he planned his order of a jumbo Chicago dog with fries and a Diet Coke.
“I’m beyond excited,” he said.
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