PEORIA — By the time Portillo's opens in Peoria — early May, most likely — the weather probably will be warmer. Snow probably will have melted.
And it's possible the problems that surrounded establishment of the Chicago-style restaurant chain's local outlet will be forgotten. Or at least mitigated, one Italian-sausage sandwich at a time.
Portillo's officials, city counterparts and others shivered through an outdoor, ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday at 4412 N. Rockwood Drive. The site is adjacent to Sterling Avenue and the Northwoods and Westlake shopping centers.
The invited guests then repaired to a heated tent erected on the flattened, under-construction ground to eat a Portillo's lunch, catered from its recently opened outlet in Normal. That location is doing well business-wise, according to Portillo's CEO Keith Kinsey.
He said the Peoria location is projected to do better than average, based on traffic volume and other factors. Kinsey wouldn't cite specific dollar figures.
"We're here because we want to be here," Kinsey said before shovels hit paydirt. "It's the right location, it's the right demographics, it's the right community."
Not to mention the right provision for the Peoria-based developer of the property upon which Portillo's is to be built.
At Willie Torchia's request, an extra 1 percent sales tax is to be assessed on all purchases made at Portillo's. It's to help defer Torchia's expenses for land acquisition and demolition, which have been estimated at about $5 million.
The total sales tax at Portillo's is to be 12 percent.
City Council approval of the additional tax, which Torchia said was necessary for construction to proceed, didn't come easily. Some councilors said the tax amounted to corporate welfare. The council imposed a limit on how much money the tax can provide Torchia.
Kinsey said the situation regarding the extra tax was unusual in his Portillo's dealings, but the company takes a hands-off approach on such matters. Portillo's does not own the land its outlets occupy.
"We're not getting any of the benefit from that," Kinsey said about the tax. "It's all about the developer working with the city. ... Not that it's not important to us. We want to make sure that when we open up, we're going to give back to the community. We're not just here to generate X-amount of revenues.
"We come in and find the location that we want and work with the developer from the standpoint of 'Can we get the right size?' It's up to them to get the economics on their side together and work that through."
A jovial-looking Torchia attended the groundbreaking but declined comment.
More willing to talk, and to eat, was 4th District Councilman Jim Montelongo, who represents the area where Portillo's is to be constructed. He helped broker the sales-tax compromise.
"I'm an Italian-beef guy," Montelongo said. "So I'll be here quite often."
Nick Vlahos can be reached at 686-3285 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.