2011 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Restaurateur and Chicago restaurant icon Rich Melman, along with his wife Martha and children R.J., Jerrod, and Molly, joined Ryan and Val on the set of "Windy City LIVE." 40 years ago today, Melman opened R.J. Grunts, the first restaurant of what would eventually become part of his Lettuce Entertain You empire.
ABOUT LETTUCE ENTERTAIN YOU ENTERPRISES, INC.
Since 1971, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc. (LEYE) has maintained a sense of humor and enjoyment while creating high quality, successful restaurants. Due to the innovation of LEYE's Founder and Chairman, Richard Melman, and his creative team of partners and employees, LEYE currently owns, licenses or manages more than 80 establishments in Illinois, California, Arizona, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Georgia, California and Virginia. The founding of LEYE was the result of joining Melman's food ideas with the confidence and support of Jerry A. Orzoff, Melman's first partner. A successful real estate agent and North Michigan Avenue haberdasher, Orzoff (who died in 1981 at the age of 45), played a crucial role in Melman's life as a friend and mentor. "Jerry was a guy I respected and related to," says Melman. "He believed in my ideas. Meeting him was the turning point in my life." After meeting Melman for the first time in 1970, Orzoff liked his off-beat ideas, and believed in his ability. Working together as new friends and partners, Melman and Orzoff raised a total of $17,000 to create an upbeat eatery geared toward young singles interested in rock music, casual clothes and healthy food. Melman hired bright, attractive waitresses and bartenders and filled the location with hanging plants and modern artwork.
The menu was designed to appeal to a variety of tastes, and included everything from vegetarian and macrobiotic foods to hamburgers, sandwiches, milkshakes and the first fruit and vegetable laden salad bar. Melman and Orzoff paired their first initials, added the sound a pig makes when eating and baptized the establishment R.J. Grunts on June 10, 1971 in Chicago's Lincoln Park. Despite a lackluster response in the opening weeks, Orzoff provided the much needed confidence and enthusiasm to keep Melman optimistic until his dream became reality. After one month, Grunts became a success.
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