RIVER NORTH — Already beloved for its hot dogs and Italian beef, Portillo’s is jumping into the spicy chicken sandwich battle to take on Popeye’s and other chains riding the heat wave.
Portillo’s is rolling out its sandwich at all locations Tuesday with a Chicago twist – hot giardiniera sauce.
Like other competitors’ sandwiches, Portillo’s breaded sandwich is served on a toasted brioche bun with lettuce and tomato.
The spicy sauce is a chunky giardiniera relish mixed into a creamy, hot sauce. Portillo’s said it tested a variety of versions to nail the right combination. The sauce is being made available for use in other entrees, too.
Portillo’s spokeswoman Sara Wirth said it was time for Portillo’s to enter the hot chicken fray.
“How can you not have a Chicago name in the game?” Wirth said. “We really thought why not? Why not enter it with our own special brand. Giardiniera is such a Chicago staple, and it’s something that we can bring that’s different to the chicken sandwich wars.
Portillo’s is banking on the sauce being the standout difference on the $5.89 sandwich, which is more expensive than others in the market.
“I know that a lot of the ones in the chicken wars they say spicy chicken and you can’t really tell the difference between the spicy and the not. This one you really do feel the back note of heat,” she said. “We want it to be a slightly different kind of kick. Not just that straight heat that a lot of them have, but since we are a Chicago brand, promoting our Chicago-style condiment, we might as well make sure that that’s what you taste.”
Portillo’s marketing campaign will be built around the giardiniera. It’s teaming with Cameo for Business for the campaign, with celebrities including Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Singletary, Snooki and Kenny G. (Singletary was the only one who could pronounced giardiniera, Portillo’s said).
There will also be swimwear, pool floaties and children’s book called “G Is For Giardiniera.”
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