Approvals and acceptance have come quickly and with open arms ever since Chicago-based Portillo's announced its first Wisconsin location last fall.

But on Monday, an aspect of the new restaurant at The Corridor led city officials to reconsider future approvals for the aesthetics of new businesses.

Portillo's makes a practice of localizing its restaurants to fit the history and heritage of the communities that they call home, and Brookfield has been no exception.

'We have restaurants that are, like, 1930s Prohibition themed with even 1930s cars hanging from the ceiling. Other themes are like a 1950s and '60s kind of diner theme,' Portillo's Director of Marketing Nick Scarpino said last fall. 'When we started learning more about the history of Brookfield and Bluemound Road, that spoke to us.'

Scarpino and his colleagues have elected to go with the diner theme for Brookfield and a signature aspect of that includes metal paneling along the side of the restaurant.

That aspect of the restaurant was considered allowable due to a planned development district (PDD) that applies to all of The Corridor. The PDD allows for what is called 'trade dress.'

'The building we're looking at is one of three different design styles that we've been developing for Portillo's across the country,' Mercury Studios designer Jeff Atkins said. 'This is what they consider our '50s-60s design-themed building.'

While The Corridor's PDD allowed for the architecture at Portillo's, in most cases, the plan commission is tasked with assessing each applicant that wishes to utilize trade dress.

Commissioners spent much of Monday's meeting discussing how to proceed with trade dress in the future.

Plan commission member Greg Kost was the most concerned about the process. Kost worried that trade dress should be handled under the city's regular sign and architectural approval processes rather than having its own category.

'I think it could be handled just as well as architecture and signage. I think trade dress puts us in a little bit of a difficult spot in other situations to turn requests like this down,' Kost said. 'Why can't we put this under signage and architecture as oppose to calling it trade dress, which seems to make the situation more fuzzy for everybody.'

Brookfield Assistant Attorney Julie Aquavia noted that trade dress is currently seen as an abstract term that the plan commission can assess on a case-by-case basis.

'We don't have a definition of trade dress in any of our materials,' Aquavia said.

Kost particularly made note of the Portillo's example presented Monday and the metal panels.

'This is signage. It has words on it. It is signage,' Kost said.

Brookfield Planning Adminstrator Michael Theis made note of other examples of trade dress in the city of Brookfield including awnings or color schemes at Panera Bread, DXL, TGI Friday's, Hooters and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Kost suggested Monday that the city remove trade dress from its processes and address such details as signing and architecture in the future.

'We have architectural standards and signage standards and now we've got this trade dress, which kind of involves them all,' Kost said. 'I think, when we look at this, we've really kind of melded architecture and signage together and kind of hamstrung ourselves while calling it trade dress.'

Alderman Mark Nelson joined Kost in having serious concerns about future application of trade dress in Brookfield stemming from Portillo's request.

'I ask that a little effort be put in to tighten this up. If it's signage, can it be called trade dress?' Nelson said. 'These panels are clearly signs.'

Alderman Gary Mahkorn asked that city staff be directed to explore the topic of trade dress in depth in the months to come and that the subject be revisited for action in the future.

The Portillo's request was approved, as was a motion by Mahkorn to direct staff to research trade dress in more depth for future discussion on potentially changing the city's policies.

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