Mr. Ricky's Restaurant was at 9300 North Skokie Boulevard at Gross Point Road, in a nondescript strip mall on the northwest corner.
For years Melman did not get along with his father. "I would have worked somewhere else, but I didn't feel I had a lot going for me," he said. "I flunked out of college — well, I would have flunked out if I hadn't quit first — so I worked for my dad, behind that cash register."
He had one dream: He wanted to be a partner in Mr. Ricky's. "That would have been it for me," Melman said. "That's all I wanted out of life."
He managed to save some money, and one day he asked his father and his father's partner if he could speak with them. He said he would like to join them — if only in the most minor way — as a partner in Mr. Ricky's. He was, after all, Ricky.
"My father told me no," Melman said. "He said that I was welcome to continue working there but that I wasn't ready to help run the place.
"Come to think of it, even though I worked the cash register, my dad would never let me total it up at the end of the day. He just wouldn't let me do it. So Melman quit. (NOTE: Stew Colton claims he knew Rich Melman and Rich told Stew that his Dad fired him.)
Rich and his friend, Jerry A. Orzoff, opened R.J. Grunts (Rich [and] Jerry [are] Grunts) at 2056 North Lincoln Park West, Chicago, in 1971. Then Melman and Orzoff incorporated the business as "Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc." (LEYE).
After one year, Rich and Jerry pay off R.J. Grunts. In 1972, Jerry talks Rich into retiring and moving to Los Angeles with him. After four months in Los Angeles, Rich is bored with retirement and anxious to get back to Chicago. He never thought about retirement again.
The success of R.J. Grunts marked the beginning of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc.
|R.J. Grunts Salad Bar.|
Fritz That's It! was located at 1615 Chicago Avenue in Evanston, next door to the North Shore Hotel. They had a very good salad bar, that included good Caviar. New Year's Eve was packed, usually an hour and a half wait, but the drinks and menu were half-price. There was no direct access between the hotel and Fritz That's It!
|Click Menu Cover for a Full-Size Image|
|Click Lunch Menu for a Full-Size Image|
|Click Dinner Menu for a Full-Size Image|
|The force behind the original Pump Room was Ernest Byfield, right, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The Bogarts were regulars of the Ambassador East Hotel and Booth One, even honeymooning in an upstairs suite.|
In 1980, Melman with Chef Gabino Sotelino traveled together to France, where they insisted on bringing contemporary French cuisine to Chicago. This led to the opening of Ambria in the Belden-Stratford at 2300 North Lincoln Park West in Chicago. The success of Ambria inspired additional trips to Europe to study food and style.
Ed Debevic’s at 159 East Ohio Street, Chicago, opened in 1984 as a retro-themed diner. It closed in 2015. Then came Shaw's Crab House in 1984 and The Blue Crab Lounge in 1985. In 1986 a Spanish tapas and small plate restaurant Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! opened along with an upscale dining experience at Everest the same year. Let's not forget the southern Italian trattoria, Scoozi! also opened in 1986.
A new innovative Mexican, Hat Dance, opened in1988, then Tucci Benucch opened at 900 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, in 1988. Then and its cousin, Tucci Milan in 1989.
The first Bub City restaurant opened in 1989 at 901 West Weed Street in Chicago. They closed in the late 1990s. A new Bub City reopened in 2012 in the River North neighborhood located at 435 North Clark Street, Chicago.
The creation of the Frequent Diner Club Program in 1991 was a game-changer in the restaurant industry, as one of the first loyalty programs of its kind.
In the 1990s, LEYE opened Maggiano's Little Italy in Chicago in1991 and Oak Brook in 1992.
Papagus Greek Taverna in Oak Brook in 1991 featured Grecian delights and Mezedes amidst the friendly surroundings of a rustic taverna, and Big Bowl in Chicago's River North district in 1992, an Asian cafe featuring simple, fresh dishes under $10. Melman opened the Corner Bakery, a quick, casual restaurant chain geared towards downtown lunches, and M-Burger, a gourmet burger stand.
Tuchetti's opened in December 1992 at 4400 Fox Valley Center Dr., Aurora, Illinois. Specializing in "old-fashioned" Italian cooking, which is red-sauce Italian food that most of us grew up with. But it's not like the red sauce that every public and private Elementary and High School lunchroom served. The one that leaked orange oil; oh, and don't touch the orange oil, it'll stain your finger for 3 days.foodlife and MityNice Grill, located in Chicago's Water Tower Place. Foodlife, a revolutionary food hall, offers an abundant choice among 13 restaurant kiosks. MityNice Grill, located at the east end of foodlife, was a comfortable neighborhood grill with the decor and feel of the 1940s, accompanied by a diverse yet simple menu.
In 1996 Melman opened its first Chinese restaurant in January, Ben Pao, which loosely translated means firecracker. In December 1998, Wildfire opened in Oak Brook and a Wildfire in Lincolnshire in 1999.
In March 1999, Bones Restaurant (opened in 1979), in Lincolnwood reopened the rebranded restaurant as L. Woods Tap & Pine Lodge, a nostalgic Northwoods Supper Club with a log cabin feel. Ribs seem to become a conversation every time anybody says "L. Woods."
Several exciting new concepts opened in 1999, including a fine-dining restaurant, Tru, with Chef Partners Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand, and Vong with partner Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
In April of 1999, Rich Melman and Gerard Centioli announced the formation of ICON, LLC (ICON), which was formed to establish partnerships with established restaurant icons for the expressed purpose of multi-unit expansion and development.
In 2000 LEYE opened Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab in Chicago, styled after their iconic Miami restaurant. Mon Ami Gabi opened its third location in the Oakbrook Mall.
Frankie's Fifth Floor Pizzeria opened in the 900 North Michigan Avenue Shops offering Sardinian and Tavern Pizzas. In 2008, Frankie's Scaloppine opened next to Frankie's Fifth Floor Pizzeria, a neighborhood Italian restaurant with style featuring chicken, veal, and vegetable scaloppini.
In 2008, Rich Melman's sons, R.J. and Jerrod, opened Hub 51, an American concept located in River North. Hub 51 duals as a restaurant/bar skewed to the young and hip with great food, drinks, and music. Hub 51 also opened in O'Hare Terminal 5.
Studio Paris opens in 2011 and quickly becomes one of Chicago’s hottest nightclubs and celebrity hangouts, playing host to the biggest DJs and performers in the world including Justin Bieber, Calvin Harris, Snoop Dogg, Diplo, Chance the Rapper, and others.
Rich Melman wins the James Beard Outstanding Restaurateur Award in 2011.
The RPM Restaurant brand is born in 2012 with the opening of RPM Italian in Chicago, with celebrity couple Bill and Giuliana Rancic as partners.
Lettuce Fly was created with the opening of Big Bowl in 2013 at O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 5.
The first location of Beatrix opens in River North in 2013. The neighborhood restaurant and coffeehouse had three locations in Chicago and one in Oak Brook, IL. It also expanded to include Beatrix Market, a grab-and-go concept that highlights the best of Beatrix.
Lettuce Entertain You opens Joe’s Live in Rosemont, Illinois in 2016, a concert and music venue.
Lettuce Entertain You opens Seaside in 2017, which becomes the organization’s first virtual restaurant. Additional virtual concepts opened in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic including Ben Pao, Vong’s Thai Kitchen, Coastal Soups & Salads, and others.