Meet Doug Cohen: The Man Who Brought Portillo’s to Rockford

May 9, 2015

Doug_CohenAfter his first visit to Portillo's fifteen years ago, Doug Cohen knew his hometown of Rockford, IL needed its own Portillo's restaurant. Several unsuccessful attempts to convince founder Dick Portillo to build a restaurant in Rockford led Doug to solicit the help of his neighbors by starting a petition in 2010.

Five years later, Doug's tireless efforts have paid off, as the Rockford Portillo's is set to open on June 9th, 2015. 

"Simply put, Doug Cohen is responsible for bringing a Portillo's to Rockford," said Dick Portillo. "His persistence paid off."

We reached out to Doug to tell his story. Here is what he had to say:

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Q: Tell us about your history with Portillo's.

My first encounter with Portillo's was in January 2000 when I was in training for one week in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. When lunch time arrived on our first day, our instructor gave us a map with several dining choices on it. He noted that out of all of the choices, he would highly recommend trying Portillo's. So I loaded my car with some other hungry students and we headed to the Portillo's in Arlington Heights.

The restaurant was busy and the parking lot was packed. I noticed when I looked toward the drive thru lane there were employees standing outside, wearing headsets, taking orders from the cars in line. After entering the restaurant, I noticed it had a 1920s theme and was full of life. The people working the counter were filled with energy, talkative, and fast. I ordered an Italian Beef and the order was up quickly. We found a table and upon first taste of my sandwich, it was truly love at first bite. 

I was hooked for life.  

Q: Tell us about the petition. When did you get the idea? How did you spread the word?

In 2000, a local newspaper article claimed Portillo's was opening a Rockford location. I was elated and was looking forward to having all of that yummy goodness right here in our city. But it never materialized. So I decided to write to Portillo's.

I wrote to Portillo's many times about opening a Rockford location but I was repeatedly informed that a Rockford location was not in their plans. I decided that I would need to take it upon myself to show Mr. Portillo that people from this area would support a Portillo's restaurant. I started an online petition in August 2010 and supplemented that with a Facebook page in May 2011 to help promote the petition. 

I had some "Bring Portillo's" to Rockford promotional t-shirts made and I gave those away. I also ordered some business cards to give away and I pinned them up wherever I could. I also promoted the petition on Craigslist. Eventually, the local newspaper gained an interest in my petition and interviewed me twice about my efforts. A few local television stations picked up the story as well and helped spread the word. 

Between the petition and the Facebook page, more than 8,000 people joined the "Bring Portillo's to Rockford" campaign.

Q: What were people's reactions when told them about your petition to bring Portillo's to Rockford?

Some of my friends would start backing away from me slowly with a strange look in their eyes. Some told me I was wasting my time and money, saying that Portillo's would never come to Rockford. After launching the petition, the majority of people were supportive and many thanked me for my efforts. This was reflected in the thousands of online petition signatures, and all of the comments and likes on the Facebook page.

Q:  What are your favorite menu items at Portillo's? 

I am a huge fan of Portillo's Italian beef sandwiches. Nobody's beef tops Portillo's. I also enjoy the hot dogs, ribs, and chocolate cake. Now that we have a Rockford location, I will be able to further explore the many different menu options.

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The Rockford Portillo's opens on June 9th, 2015. We look forward to welcoming Doug and everyone who helped bring our restaurant to Rockford.

Portillo's is still hiring for all positions in Rockford. Apply in person Tuesday through Friday from 9 am - 6 pm AND Saturday from 10 am - 5 pm at our temporary hiring center at 6234 Mulford Village Drive in Rockford. If you are unable to apply in person, you may drop off your completed application in the dropbox at our hiring center. Training is available on weekends for full-time students.

Portillo's fans can register now to receive a free piece of chocolate cake on their birthday from any Portillo's restaurant. Sign up here.

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