Richard Melman knew he wasn’t cut out for university life. He spent his childhood in a family-owned restaurant, and then his teen years working in fast food eateries, at a soda fountain, and selling restaurant supplies. Restaurants were his life work then, and they continue to be to this day.
Melman skipped the college track and hooked up with Jerry A. Orzoff to launch his career as a restaurateur. Orzoff immediately and unconditionally believed in Melman’s ability to create and run restaurants, and in 1971 the two opened R.J. Grunts, a hip burger joint that soon became one of the hottest restaurants in the Windy City. R.J. Grunts was a forerunner in the trend toward dining out as entertainment that swept the US in the early 70s; Melman and Orzoff presented food differently and with a sense of humor that created a youthful and fun restaurant.
Melman and Orzoff continued to develop restaurant concepts together until Orzoff's death in 1981. Through his relationship with Orzoff, Melman formulated a business philosophy based on the importance of partners, of sharing responsibilities and profits with them, and of developing and growing together.
Today, Melman is the founder and chairman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, the Chicago-based corporation that owns over 80 restaurants nationwide, including Tru, Scoozi!, Everest, and Wildfire steakhouses. Melman has 55 working partners, most of who have come up through the organization. As a cornerstone to his success, Melman believes that in order to operate so many restaurants well, Lettuce needs to hire, train and develop people, and then keep them happy and focused on excellence.
Melman is not interested in being the biggest, the richest, or the most well known restaurateur. He has always just wanted to be the best he can be. He places enormous value on the almost 6,000 people who work for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, and feels tremendous responsibility for their continued success.