An Open Letter to Dick Portillo, 1993

Dear Dick,

dog houseI don’t think you could find a more ardent admirer of your hot dogs than Yours Truly. I was a frequent diner at The Dog House on North Avenue, or as we say in the city, “Nort’ Aye-ven-oo.” I was patient when you expanded to include the Italian beefs and the Italian sausage. At least the sausage was sausage, right? Kinda like a hot dog?

You appeared to be keeping true to your roots. The dog was king, right? And what a dog you made! Everything just so – the celery salt, the onions, the tomato slices, the relish, the dill spear, the poppy seed bun. You’d be surprised, Dick, how many places don’t even offer the poppy seed bun. And your crinkle-cut fries are the best. But I digress.Let’s get to my real “beef” here (please pardon the pun).

I am hearing rumors that you are planning to start up a “new concept” – a branch right off your hot dog stands, where you’ll be offering … PASTA? With different sauces? Salads? Hand-tossed pizza, for crying out loud …?

And you’re actually thinking of calling it … (I can barely keep myself from laughing here, and I would if the concept weren’t so sad) “Barnelli’s Pasta Bowl?” Come on! Was “Fredelli’s” taken? What about “Wilmelli’s?”

Dick, I don’t think I need to remind you. There are myriad pizza places in Chicago. And many of them are very, very good. A hot dog stand should never dream of becoming a pizza place, and it surely shouldn’t dream of becoming an Italian restaurant. You’re diluting things, Dick. Pasta and salad? What’s next – you gonna start putting up awnings, too?

My friendly advice is to stick with what you know. My teachers always told me that. Did yours do that, too? I give you credit, Dick, I really do. You started up a great hot dog joint. Here it is, 1993, and you’ve got a good thirty years in the business. Thirty years from now, you could really be legendary for your hot dogs alone. Why muddy the waters? I’m telling you – nothing good could come from this.

You want to break ground? More power to you. But keep the menu firmly attached to that ground and not some pie-in-the-sky notion of Smorgasbord City. Chicago style hot dogs are where it’s at. That’s where the real dough is.

I'd hate to see you take on too much, and thirty years from now, in 2013, nobody remembering the name Portillo's or what might have been. Just my advice – take it or leave it.

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