Rich Melman Details New River North Hotel Restaurant

When the new Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc. restaurant opens in the lobby of the Aloft hotel next May or June, it will be the only full-service outlet for the three brand-new hotels — Hyatt Place, Fairfield Inn & Suites and Aloft — clustered at Clark Street and Grand Avenue in River North. Lettuce Chairman Richard Melman, who says the working name is “The Hotel” simply to distinguish it from the many other projects on his plate, has put together one of his characteristic partnerships for the 130-seat spot, which initially will serve lunch, dinner and weekend brunch and later may add breakfast. It also will have an outdoor patio and provide room service.

The team includes Marc Jacobs, vice president and managing partner of Lettuce's Antico Posto, Foodlife, Foodease, Mity Nice Grill and Scoozi; Susan Weaver, chef and partner of the Mon Ami Gabi division; and Lettuce corporate chef Rita Dever.

Although plans are in the early stages, Mr. Melman says the restaurant will be relaxed and “woman-friendly” with a wine bar and a regular bar. The cuisine will be healthy and light but not anything specific, such as Italian or Mediterranean. “It's just food that Susan and Rita love to cook — and that knocks me out.” He adds that Ms. Weaver, who lived in France for years and has had ideas for a restaurant for a long time, and Ms. Dever, whom he calls his “Alice Waters,“ started experimenting with recipes months before the deal was sealed. “They've made more than two dozen dishes so far,” he estimated. “They do amazing pancakes, which will undoubtedly be on the brunch menu,” and "unbelievable salads.”

The restaurant will be designed by Lisa Simeone and Gina Deary of Chicago's Simeone Deary Design Group, with whom Mr. Melman has worked before. They also were responsible for Ria and Balsan in the Waldorf Astoria Chicago (formerly the Elysian Hotel), Prasino and Spiaggia and Spiaggia Café, among other commissions.

While relatively few Lettuce restaurants are in hotels, Mr. Melman says he got involved because he has a long-term relationship with the developers, Albert Friedman, CEO and president of Chicago-based Friedman Properties, and Bruce White, chairman and CEO of White Lodging Services Corp., and when they started to build, they came to him and said: “Why don't you do a restaurant here?” Since he doesn't do “painting by the numbers” restaurants, he cautions that the plans are likely to change, especially starting in January when he anticipates getting “more serious.”

By Anne Spiselman

Crain's Chicago

(November 8, 2012)