Most restaurant entrepreneurs franchise one idea everywhere. Not Richard Melman. Since 1971, the founder of Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises has opened 185 restaurants, representing around 70 concepts. (He's lost count.) How does the pun-happy restaurateur who once started Lawrence of Oregano and Jonathan Livingston Seafood keep doing it?

As told to Leigh Buchanan.

Mine the past and future 

I'll think back to a pizza place I loved as a kid, or to mod London in the '60s, a theme I'm weaving into a steakhouse. Or I'll think about the future of vegetables and talk to dietitians and people working with grains. My first restaurant was inspired by youth culture and Woodstock. 

Start with the product 

We were doing a fast-casual Asian concept. The chef made these filled dumplings called bao. I said, "That's a restaurant," and we created Wow Bao. I know one chef who makes delicious, healthy, simple food. One day I said, "Why don't we do a restaurant?" That became Beatrix.

Respond to changes--and know your limits 

Artists create for the public but also express something about themselves at a given time. I do the same thing with restaurants. I don't have a good sense of customers more than 20 years younger than I am, so my three children help with concepts for Millennials.

Innovate outside, replicate inside

Our restaurants are like the opposite sides of a coin. Heads and tails--food and decor are different at each. But what holds them together--how we hire and train and market and make people successful--remains the same. The way we do things is very solid and doesn't change.

A few options among Lettuce Entertain You's many restaurants:


  • Big Bowl
  • Ramen-San
  • Tokio Pub
  • Wow Bao

Fine Dining

  • Everest
  • Tru
  • L20
  • Eiffel Tower


  • Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab
  • Di Pescara
  • Reel Club
  • Shaw's Crab House


  • Frankie's Scaloppine
  • RPM Italian
  • Osteria via Stato
  • Petterino's
  • Tucci Benucch


  • Beatrix
  • Bub City
  • Foodlife/Foodease
  • L. Woods Tap & Pine Lodge
  • M Burger
  • Mity Nice Bar and Grill
  • R.J. Grunts
  • Summer House Santa Monica
  • Wildfire
  • Twin City Grill
  • Hub 51
  • Don & Charlie's
  • Community Canteen
  • M Street Kitche