CHICAGO — Portillo's will bring back its famed lemon cake — all thanks to the work of one die-hard fan who looked for the recipe for 10 years.
The cake will be available June 13-July 31 at all Portillo's locations. In a post on Twitter, Portillo's explicitly pointed to the campaign of one man, Ben, as the reason the lemony dessert would be back.
"It just shows, really, what people can accomplish if they get together and stand up," Ben said. "I'm just so happy that everyone who wanted [the cake] ... they'll have their chance.
"I'm hoping it's gonna sell out and Portillo's" will bring back the cake permanently," he said.
The hot dog eatery ditched the lemon cake about a decade ago, but Ben, who grew up eating the cake with his dad in West Lawn, never gave up hope the cake would make its return. He sought out a slice for years, and when it became obvious the cake wouldn't return, he turned to his own kitchen and started trying to make his own version.
Then, in February, Ben grew desperate enough that he posted to Reddit with an offer: He'd pay $300 for the original recipe (or a copycat cake) and another $30 to anyone who could figure out why the cake went missing.
The post garnered enormous attention, with dozens of people offering hints or trying to dig up information for Ben. (Ben asked that his last name not be used so that his Reddit account may remain private.)
That's when Portillo's stepped in. The chain offered to send its super fan a cake and give him the recipe so he could make the lemon cake whenever he wanted.
Ben got his sweet, blissful bite of lemon cake in March.
The only hitch was that everyone else now wanted the lemon cake, too. They sent Ben thousands of messages, asking for the recipe, which Portillo's had asked Ben to keep private. Time after time, Ben had to give the bad news: He couldn't share the recipe because he'd been sworn to secrecy. But he had a feeling Portillo's was planning something.
Ben even created an online petition, lobbying Portillo's to bring back the cake. The petition got more than 1,900 signatures.
Portillo's finally called Ben on Monday, letting him know the cake would be making a limited-edition return this summer. (Plus, the cake will be tested out for a few weeks beforehand in Arizona, where Ben now lives.)
"I was just overjoyed. I couldn't believe it," Ben said. "It was the best possible thing. It was exactly what I wanted. Something about it just resonated with everybody."
The cake will be baked in stores every morning while it's available, Portillo's said in a news release. It's composed of two layers of yellow cake with lemon frosting.
“After we connected with Ben, we were inundated with messages from other customers,” Portillo’s CEO Keith Kinsey said in a news release. “We received inquiries from across the country asking us to bring the cake back. Ben’s plea for his favorite menu item really resonated with a lot of people; we couldn’t have asked for more passionate response from Portillo’s fans.”
Portillo's spokeswoman Ana Espinoza said there are no plans to bring back the cake permanently — but one never knows what might happen.
"It was the greatest cake in the world, and [everyone] should definitely try it because it's not gonna be here for long," Ben said.