Restaurant industry icon Rich Melman will close the upcoming VIBE Conference in Las Vegas with a rare keynote address. We’re eager to hear his take on the state of dining out and his thoughts about the role of beverage in innovative concept development and operations. After all, the founder and chairman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) is the mind behind such success stories as R.J. Grunts, Everest, Nacional 27, Mon Ami Gabi, Wildfire and foodlife. Plus, he has wisdom to share, culled from four decades of experience and experimentation. We’re also excited because his sons R.J. and Jerrod will join him for the session.
The young Melmans grew up in their father’s restaurants — each bussed tables as young as 13 and then learned the business from the ground up in various LEYE properties — and then opened Hub 51 in Chicago last year to much acclaim. The hip eatery boasts a sleek, sexy but warm décor with a large bar area and a swank sublevel nightclub called Sub 51. The pair are also partners in LEYE, as well as a recently opened concept, La Grande Orange Santa Monica, partnering with LGO Hospitality founder Bob Lynn. The duo will open their third concept by summer; it promises to exude an energetic vibe and feature a strong drink program.
The elder Melman’s concepts each include a defined beverage element, and many of the top beverage pros in the business have either grown up in the LEYE organization or been engaged by it. Adam Seger, for example, serves as general manager, bar chef and sommelier at Nacional 27 and is one of the nation’s most cutting-edge mixologists, known to grow his own herbs and source unique ingredients for his inventive libations. LEYE director of wine and spirits Alpana Singh is known for developing cocktail and wine lists that deliver on the experience promised by the concept, and is a noted wine expert and Chicago restaurant scene fixture, guest hosting the city’s popular restaurant review show, “Check, Please!”
Given LEYE’s success with its drink initiatives, seeing R.J. and Jerrod Melman develop concepts with even more bar and beverage focus is an indicator that the trend toward drink innovation is only growing stronger. “The younger guest is very sophisticated not only about food and experience but also about liquor and drinks and drinks,” Rich Melman says. “R.J. and Jerrod’s concepts skew younger and the bar is important to that crowd.”
LEYE’s portfolio now boasts 37 concepts totaling more than 60 restaurants in seven markets, with a Mexican venue set to open in Las Vegas shortly. And with R.J. and Jerrod bringing new concepts into the mix, it seems the Melman name will continue to influence dining and drinking trends for another few decades.