Is Portillo’s really coming to Moline? Signs point to yes

MOLINE, Illinois — Remarking on the recent string of restaurant and retail successes in Moline over the past year, the city’s economic development director Ray Forsythe dropped this tantalizing tidbit during a presentation to the City Council on Monday, Nov. 27.

“Now, we’re working on Portillo’s,” he said.

Rumors that one of Chicagoland’s most popular restaurant chains could be coming to the Quad Cities have circulated for months, but Forsythe added more fuel to the fire this week, noting that the city’s retail attraction consultant has been actively courting the chain and sharing with them possible locations in the city.

That consulting firm – Birmingham, Alabama-based Retail Strategies – already has a strong track record luring national chains to Moline. Hired on a three-year contract in 2014, Retail Strategies is credited with assisting Moline in attracting the Olive Garden, Panda Express, Popeye’s, Verizon, Chick-fil-A, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sam’s Club to town, Forsythe said. Retail Strategies’ consulting fee is $25,000 a year, which is much less than what the city takes in via sales tax from the new businesses generated, Moline officials added.

Beth Miller, Retail Strategies’ portfolio director for Moline, said while the city has some challenges to overcome – such as higher minimum wage, workman’s compensation costs and taxes than the Iowa side of the Quad Cities, -it also has a lot going for it that is easy to pitch to site selectors and developers.

In particular, she noted, the entire Illinois side of the Quad Cities is very under-served by fast casual restaurants and other national chains for a metro area of its size. That means the demand is there, but the decision makers at those big companies need to know about it.

“It’s a huge opportunity, and Moline has been under-served for a long time,” she said. “We let (those decision makers) know that there are good demographics, and with having John Deere World Headquarters there, traffic counts are huge, even if some of those people live in Iowa.”

As for Portillo’s, Miller said she can’t speak about specific companies, but noted the fast casual restaurant segment is growing rapidly and there are a lot of attractive potential locations available in Moline, including outlots near SouthPark Mall and the former Mills Chevrolet property south of John Deere Road.

A company spokesperson for Portillo’s acknowledged the company is looking to expand in the Land of Lincoln, but would not comment specifically on Moline.

“We continue to explore locations throughout Ilinois, but we have no new restaurants to announce at this time,” she said.

Matt Petro, chief development officer for Retail Strategies, said another thing Moline has going for it is a solid track record in landing developments and the success of those entities once they are in town.

“Each retail project builds on the past retail projects,” Petro said. “We have good connections in the retail industry and do aggressive outreach to companies looking for expansion opportunities.”

Forsythe remains optimistic that Portillo’s will become reality, not just rumor.

“My understanding is Portillo’s is still looking at this market, but probably not until 2019 at the earliest,” he said. “The new CEO of the company grew up in Moline, it would be great if he brought them here.”