The Next Generation: Lettuce Entertain You

Zagat Chicago |
Sep 20, 2013

The name sounds straight out of the Borscht belt. But Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc., is a homegrown Chicago company, responsible for 90 restaurants throughout Illinois, California, Arizona, Maryland, Virginia, Minnesota and Nevada. The founding of burger joint RJ Grunts in 1971, known for its massive salad bar, by Richard Melman and partner Jerry Orzoff jumpstarted a casual and offbeat empire. Restaurants named with the same sense of humor, such as Jonathan Livingston Seafood and Lawrence of Oregano, quickly followed. In 1976, however, when the group took over Chicago’s iconic Pump Room, restaurant-goers started to take Lettuce Entertain You more seriously. Somehow Lettuce Entertain You found a way to create—and maintain—wildly popular high-end and low-end concepts—from Magic Pans around the country to the Windy City’s revered TRU and L20. Today, founder Rich Melman, 71, still runs the show along with his three children, RJ, 34; Jerrod, 30; and Molly, 28. The young trio has ushered the company into new territory—namely nightlife—with recent openings such as the hot tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash, and the forthcoming RPM Steakhouse with chef Doug Psaltis and partners Bill and Giuliana Rancic. Lettuce explain (don’t pardon the pun), with RJ and Jerrod, how the wide-stretching restaurant empire all began, and how they are ushering it into a new era.

RJ: Our grandfather, our dad’s dad, owned a deli, so he was the first Melman in the food business, as far as we know.

Jerrod: Our grandfather came to the US from Poland, and our dad grew up working in his deli. But I think my grandfather was much less curious about the restaurant business than my father was. I think he probably used the restaurant as a way to play cards with his friends in the back.

RJ: I’ve been working within the industry since I was 11 or 12 years old. Jerrod, too. We were doing summer jobs, or odd jobs, around the restaurants–bussing, hosting, that kind of stuff. And then I started working more full-time as it came to the end of school. And while in college, I would work over summer breaks and started working full-time as soon as I graduated college.

Jerrod: I worked as a server, host, bartender or cashier over my vacations and breaks. I wasn’t really thinking about it as a career until I got near the end of college, and realized it was really the only thing I had done and the only thing I’d liked. So as I approached the end of school I took a management position at one of my dad’s restaurants. Our sister Molly actually started on a different path. She did something called “Teach for America,” when she came out of school. So she taught kindergarten in New York for a year. It’s sort of like the Peace Corps for teaching, so you end up teaching in an underprivileged area. She did that thinking maybe she would want to get into teaching. And I think her experience was that she loved working with kids, but didn’t enjoy being a teacher.

I think the restaurant business appealed to all of us because our father lives his life showing us how passionate he was about the business. There was something subliminal about watching him do something at such a high level, and watching him really be passionate about it.

RJ: Our father was totally happy when we all decided to follow him into the business.

Jerrod: I think he gave us all the same speech, “You know, you won’t be given anything for free and if you do goof up, we will fire you.” So it was a great opportunity, but I think he wanted us to be aware of the responsibility as well.

RJ: We share his core values and we have a lot of the same qualities that, certainly, he has instilled upon us. The things that matter to him matter to us. And the culture of the company is very important.

Jerrod:  I hope that we bring an appreciation of the past to the table. And I hope we bring a current perspective to things, too. We all have a tremendous amount of pride in seeing what our dad built and created. So we have that sort of respect for the past, along with ideas for the future and how the company can move forward in the next 40 years. I think we’ve certainly helped push this company in directions that it wasn’t going go without some young energy. Our foray into nightclubs has certainly been an exciting thing to watch and it is something my dad gets a big kick out of.

RJ: Our dad taught us to care about the people you work with and care about what we do. It’s such a great bonus that some of the people I work with are family. I have a lot friends who are very envious of our family and the way we get along.

Jerrod: We’re lucky that we have a lifetime together and a lifetime of history to draw on. Our President–his name is Kevin Brown—his daughter just sent me an email, “10 Signs You Grew Up In A Restaurant Family.” Like, “You started working when you were 10. You always had extra cash because you were a server.” There were 10 cute things that were kind of funny. I think growing up in a restaurant family is unlike growing up in other kinds of families.

RJ: Still, the relationship is more complicated than with others. It could be more emotional and other parts of your life could impact what goes on in business decisions.

Jerrod: RJ and I can fight today or tomorrow and he’s still my brother. So he’s always there and that’s a great thing. But sometimes that’s even annoying.

Media Contact

Emily Clark pr@leye.com 773-907-7347

Recent Posts

How To
Perfect Pair: Beaujolais, Lowbrow to Highbrow
Nov 15, 2017

Say Oui! because Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive! Classic French bistro, Mon Ami Gabi, is celebrating… read more >

How To
How To: Make Thanksgiving Dinner Like a Chef
Nov 15, 2017

In charge of preparing Thanksgiving dinner this year or simply looking for recipe inspiration? Our… read more >

In The Restaurants
Rise & Shine: The Best Way to Breakfast During the Week
Nov 13, 2017

Early risers rejoice! We've rounded up all of our weekday breakfast specialties that will keep you… read more >

How To
Recipe: Beatrix’s Charcoal Cocktail, Midnight Flight
Nov 10, 2017

Meet the Midnight Flight, Beatrix's new charcoal cocktail featuring a split base of a smokey mezcal… read more >

In The Restaurants
Late Night & Live Music with Lettuce
Nov 9, 2017

Night owls rejoice - select Lettuce restaurants and nightclubs offer everything from late-night food… read more >

How To
A Guide to Selecting the Perfect Thanksgiving Wines
Nov 7, 2017

Fact: wine stores are intimidating. More truth: we're here to help! We've tapped the minds of our… read more >

In The Restaurants
Where to Eat Lunch
Nov 3, 2017

For that one hour escape from your office, you want to make sure to make most of your lunch hour.… read more >

In The Restaurants
What’s Hot in Hot Sauce
Nov 1, 2017

Welcome to Oyster Bah, our East Coast oyster Mecca dedicated to serving up the freshest seafood and… read more >

In The Restaurants
Thanksgiving 2017
Nov 1, 2017

This Thanksgiving, be thankful that you don't have to spend hours slaving away over the stove,… read more >

How To
How to Host Friendsgiving
Nov 1, 2017

Friendsgiving (n): the turkey-centric festive feast held by your chosen family - your friends - to… read more >

In The Restaurants
Fall Harvest’s Best Dishes
Oct 30, 2017

The bounty of fall harvest comes at a time in the year when we are craving the comfort of cool… read more >

How To
Recipe: Ema’s Pumpkin Hummus
Oct 30, 2017

Enjoy your favorite fall ingredient the Mediterranean way and make Ema's Pumpkin Hummus by Chef CJ… read more >

In The Restaurants
Time to Party! Three Dots and a Dash’s New Cocktail Menu Launches
Oct 26, 2017

Three Dots and a Dash’s new cocktail menu is dropping on November 2, and you better believe it's… read more >

In The Restaurants
Gluten-Free Friendly Restaurants
Oct 24, 2017

Finding gluten-free friendly restaurants has gotten a lot easier than it used to be. At Lettuce… read more >

In The Restaurants
All Pumpkin, Everything
Oct 22, 2017

'Tis the season for everyone's favorite fall ingredient, pumpkin. Whether you're preparing pumpkin… read more >

How To
It’s Apple Season: Where To Get Them and Where To Eat Them
Oct 19, 2017

Yeah, yeah, pumpkin this and pumpkin that, but let us not forget about our other favorite fall… read more >

How To
Recipe: Ramen-san’s Japanese Ol’ Fashioned
Oct 19, 2017

The Japanese Ol' Fashioned at Ramen-san is a new take on the classic American cocktail. Keep your… read more >

How To
Video: How To Crack A Stone Crab
Oct 19, 2017

It's stone crab season at Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab! Learn the proper way to crack… read more >

In The Restaurants
Here’s Where to Brunch this Weekend
Oct 18, 2017

If you're anything like us, you plan your weekend around brunch. Here is your guide to all of our… read more >

Openings
Sushi-san: Coming Fall 2017
Oct 18, 2017

We've got some hot tea that needs spilling. The Ramen-san team is dropping River North's hottest… read more >

In The Restaurants
Thanksgiving Eve & Black Friday Happenings
Oct 16, 2017

Do you have friends and family in for Thanksgiving weekend? Show them around on Thanksgiving Eve and… read more >

Openings
Introducing Beatrix Market In The Chicago Loop
Oct 13, 2017

Introducing Beatrix Market (155 N. Wacker), a grab & go market experience stocked with large… read more >

How To
Recipe: Bub City Deep-Fried Turkey Legs
Oct 7, 2017

Take a Southern approach this Thanksgiving with Bub City's recipe for deep-fried turkey legs, which… read more >

How To
Recipe: RPM Steak Roast Turkey
Oct 7, 2017

Impress your family this Thanksgiving by taking a page out of RPM Steak's book with this shockingly… read more >

How To
Recipe: Bub City Whole Smoked Turkey
Oct 7, 2017

This Thanksgiving, Bub City is spilling the secrets to its perfectly smoked bird. Not into cooking?… read more >

How To
Recipe: Three Dots and a Dash Wiki Wiki
Oct 4, 2017

The Wiki Wiki at Three Dots and a Dash is a modern take on a tiki classic. Try this recipe for the… read more >

In The Restaurants
Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Where to Eat & Drink in October
Oct 2, 2017

Throughout the month of October, Lettuce Entertain You restaurants are donating a portion of… read more >

In The Restaurants
Halloween 2017: Treats, Tricks & Specials
Oct 1, 2017

  It's officially October so you know what that means: time to grab your favorite pumpkin-spiced… read more >

In The Restaurants
How To Throw an Italian Pasta Party
Sep 29, 2017

Any good Nonna will tell you that being a good Italian is not just in your blood, it's a lifestyle.… read more >

In The Restaurants
Have You Tried the Impossible Burger at M Burger Yet?
Sep 26, 2017

Did you hear about this magical plant-based burger dubbed the Impossible Burger that's been sweeping… read more >

In The Restaurants
Explore Nacional 27’s New Steak Menu
Sep 26, 2017

For 19 years, Nacional 27 has focused on the culinary and cultural adventure of Latin-American… read more >

In The Restaurants
Osteria Via Stato is Your New Brunch Destination
Sep 21, 2017

Summer is synonymous with outdoor brunching and we’ve got a brand new spot in Chicago’s River… read more >

In The Restaurants
Your Guide to Game Day Grub
Sep 1, 2017

Fall is the kick-off the football season and no matter what team you are rootin' for, several of our… read more >

In The Restaurants
Fall Foliage: Five Ways to Enjoy the Season
Aug 31, 2017

Days are getting chillier and the leaves are starting to turn. Fall is on the horizon, and there’s… read more >

In The Restaurants
Five Reasons Why You Should Be Brunchin’ at Stella Barra Pizzeria
Aug 23, 2017

Stella Barra in North Bethesda (11825 Grand Park Ave.) is one of our favorite brunch destinations… read more >

In The Restaurants
Your Perfect Fried Chicken Sandwich is Served
Aug 8, 2017

You can roast ‘em, you can bake ‘em, and you can grill ‘em, but nothing tantalizes the taste… read more >

How To
Anatomy of a Good Soup
Aug 8, 2017

A piping hot bowl of flavorful soup can fill your body and soul with happiness, if it’s made well… read more >

In The Restaurants
Vegetarian Comfort Food
Aug 8, 2017

A New Year's resolution that we are making is to incorporate more veggies into our diet, but it's… read more >

In The Restaurants
Kid-Friendly Dining Options and Activities
Aug 1, 2017

You've been to the zoo, the beach, the pool... the kids are starting to get stir crazy. We've got… read more >

In The Restaurants
The Best Time of the Year: Patio Season
Aug 1, 2017

Warm weather is here, which means al fresco dining is too! We've rounded up the best patio spots at… read more >

Lettuce Consulting Group

Grow Your Business

Learn More
Career Opportunities

Join Our Team

Search Jobs
Latest Articles

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign Up Now

Lettuce on Instagram

Checkout our feed @lettuceentertainyou!