Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants

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Chicago has some fantastic restaurants. There are plenty of people to thank for this: the Malnati family for their many deep dish havens, Rick Bayless for his Mexican creations, and Phil Stefani for his stellar Signature Restaurants, to name just a few. But one name often stands out when talking Chicago restaurateurs: Rich Melman, Founder and Chairman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE).

Lettuce Entertain You operates over 50 restaurants, ranging from burger joints to white tablecloth fine dining. And though the cuisine may differ at each restaurant, some things don’t waiver: excellent service, quality products, and damn good food.

It all started on June 10, 1971 when a little burger joint named R.J. Grunts opened its doors for the first time. (Check out this review for a fun tidbit on where the restaurant got it’s name!) From the beginning Rich ran his restaurants a little differently. He took pride in having a sense of humor, having fun while working hard, and most of all simply caring about his customers and his employees.

Rich Melman founded Lettuce Entertain You with his friend Jerry Orzoff, and continued to create restaurant concepts with him for several years, including Jonathan Livingston Seafood and Great Gritzbe’s Flying Food Show. Though Orzoff passed away ten years later in 1981, his influence and philosophy remains a very strong part of the company. Melman continues to work with over 55 partners, sharing responsibility and profit with each of them. The company now employs over 6,000 people.

What sets Lettuce Entertain You restaurants apart from the rest? You may get a different answer from everyone you ask, but they will all come down to the basics. Rich Melman simply knows how to run a restaurant and serve people great food. Longtime Chicago favorites include Mon Ami Gabi, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, Shaw’s Crab House, and Brasserie Joe. Some of the most popular restaurants even have multiple locations, the most numerous being Wildfire, Big Bowl and Maggiano’s Little Italy. The company also operates several restaurants outside of Chicago — you’ll find them in Vegas, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Scottsdale, Washington D.C, and Santa Monica.

Not surprisingly, Rich’s sons, R.J. and Jerrod, have continued in their father’s footsteps. As co-owners of the popular bar/restaurant Hub 51, the brothers have begun creating their own niche in the restaurant world. The newest Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, another R.J. and Jerrod project, will open in fall 2010, taking the place of Brasserie Joe in River North.

Whether you’re in the mood for Spanish tapas, French steak frites, stir fry, lobster, or a good old-fashioned cheeseburger, Lettuce Entertain You has a spot for you.

The official LEYE website sums up the organization well. “We’re a very disciplined organization. We run restaurants well,” says Melman. “People think of us as creative–and I do believe we possess creativity–but more importantly, we play good solid ball. Our costs are good. We surround ourselves with good people and we train them well…not a lot of fancy stuff, just the basics. And, we work very hard.” Adds Melman of LEYE’s success, “We’ve had the ability to give people what they want almost before they know they want it. You can call it trendsetting. I prefer to call it the ability to listen to people.”

To learn more about Lettuce Entertain You or to check out their restaurants, visit the official website.

*Full disclosure: I am a Lettuce Entertain You employee (an R.J. Grunt’s-lovin’ fool) but I have also been a lifelong customer and continue to enjoy their many wonderful dining establishments. Can I have a raise, now? Only kidding.

**Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.

Jackie Berkery

About Jackie Berkery

With a strong phobia of cubicles and those three little words (“nine to five”), I am thrilled to be working on UPchicago from the comforts of my own couch at three o’clock in the morning. I love to write. I love Chicago. Hello, dream job!

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