“I don’t want to be the biggest, I don’t want to be the richest, I don’t want to be the most well-known. I just want to be the best I can be.” – Rich Melman
June 10, 2021: Chicago, IL – June ushers in a major milestone for Lettuce Entertain You, 50 years since its first restaurant, R.J. Grunts, opened its doors (June 10, 1971), which remains a staple in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
“When R.J. Grunts opened, business was very slow for the first few months,” said Rich Melman, Founder and Chairman. “We were running out of money, and I started thinking that we’d have to close the restaurant, crushing all my hopes and dreams. Then suddenly, like magic, Grunts caught on and became one of the hottest restaurants in Chicago. To this day, that feeling of potential failure has stayed with me. And now I see that those early struggles helped mold me as a businessman and taught me never to take success for granted.”
With R.J. Grunts, Melman set out with a goal to create a fun, hip restaurant he and his friends would enjoy, where food was presented differently and with a sense of humor. R.J. Grunts sparked what is now the innovation that is Lettuce Entertain You, a company with more than 60 brands and 130 restaurants across more than one dozen states.
Lettuce began as a result of Rich Melman’s innovative ideas combined with the business acumen of Jerry A. Orzoff, Melman’s first partner. A successful realtor, Orzoff played a crucial role in Melman’s life as a close friend and mentor.
Following the opening of R.J. Grunts, Melman and Orzoff continued to develop restaurant concepts together until Orzoff’s death in 1981. Through his relationship with Orzoff, Melman formulated a philosophy based on the importance of partnership, sharing responsibilities and ideas, developing and growing together, with a “culture of caring” ethos which has been paramount to the company since day one.
Did you know?
- When R.J. Grunts opened, it was credited with being one of the first to create an all-you-can-eat salad bar
- Rich is credited with creating the legendary potato skins which he served as a healthy menu option, not an appetizer, at R.J. Grunts
- J. Grunts featured an organic meal of the day, macrobiotic foods and fresh pressed juices, considered ahead of its time in the 70s
- Stephen Colbert, Jane Lynch and David Schwimmer are just a few of the celebrities who have worked at Lettuce restaurants
- Lettuce has had a test kitchen for 45 years where Rich works with chefs on concept and menu development for many of the restaurants. It’s one of Rich’s favorite places to spend his days saying “I’m always tasting and experimenting with food. I’m obsessed with making food better. Almost all of my inspiration starts with food. To me food starts with taste, the combination of flavors and the art of seasoning. Creating great food is exciting.”
- Rich received the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Restaurateur in 2011 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015
- J., Jerrod and Molly Melman opened their first restaurant, Hub 51, in 2008, becoming Lettuce partners (R.J. is now President, Jerrod and Molly executive partners), and continue to push the organization forward with new concepts such as RPM Seafood, RPM Italian, RPM Steak, Bub City, Three Dots and a Dash, Sushi-San and more
- Rich has always said they are in the business of developing people and it’s the people who make Lettuce successful. Lettuce now has more than 75 partners who have grown with the company.
- Rich wears it as a badge of pride that so many people have gone on to open their own restaurants saying, “Lettuce is a School for Entrepreneurs. My role is to teach people how to think about business the way I do.”
Lettuce will celebrate this momentous milestone throughout the year in the following ways:
- Rich’s Favorite Things: Rich has shared some of his all-time favorite dishes from Lettuce menus past and present and stories of their creation: https://www.leye.com/in-the-know/in-the-restaurants/richs-favorite-things/. Follow along on our Instagram.
- The 50th Anniversary Summer Scratch Off: From June 10 – August 10, Frequent Diner Club Members can play a special edition of the Summer Scratch Off, with a chance to win 2X, 3X, 4X, or 5X points when they dine. Visit here for more details: https://lettucescratchoff.com/
As Lettuce Entertain You embarks on its next 50 years, it looks to continue growth into new markets around the country.
“We are excited about the opportunities to continue to innovate and develop new projects, both in and out of Chicago,” says R.J. Melman, President, Lettuce Entertain You. “We have several new restaurants in the works including our first in Miami, Florida, plus expansion in Texas, providing opportunities for our talented team to grow with us and to add new faces to our organization.”
Looking ahead to the future, Founder Rich Melman is excited for the new prospects that lie ahead for Lettuce, saying, “For me success means never being done, never being satisfied and always striving to be better. When you strive for excellence, you’re never finished.”