There's no denying that Lettuce Entertain You was an invaluable trailblazer of the Chicago restaurant scene — had anyone near North Halsted even heard of patatas bravas before Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba came on the scene back in the day? But as we move into a new decade, with a new set of dining priorities and a new set of trends to follow, one can't help but wonder if Rich Melman, the LEYE honcho who has as many restaurant genres under his belt as there are stars in the sky, is as influential as he used to be. Heck yes, says Crain's, but maybe not in the way you think: of the current crop of hot Chicago restaurateurs, they note, a vast number trace their pedigrees to Melman.
So we decided to turn it into a game! Using Melman as our starting off point, we've been having fun making perhaps excessively convoluted connections that we suspect will occupy our attention for at least a handful of dinner parties to come.
Rich Melman to Thomas Keller: There are lots of routes here, but our current favorite: Scott Harris, formerly of LEYE's Ambria, is best known for presiding over a vast empire of Mia Francescas, in which he's partnered with Terry Alexander, who himself has a stake in The Publican and Big Star, along with Donnie Madia and Paul Kahan, who (obviously) own Blackbird, where the pastry chef is Patrick Fahy, who used to be at French Laundry. Boom. (Add a link from French Laundry back to Alinea and we've created a delightfully convoluted route to Grant Achatz.)
Rich Melman to every single tourist on Michigan Avenue: Melman's sons R.J. and Jerrod, who opened Hub 51 last year under the LEYE umbrella, have branched out their brand with a stake in L.A. restaurant mini-chain La Grande Orange. That's co-owned by Bob Lynn, a Chicago native, who formerly was an executive at the restaurant chain Houston's, which is owned by the Hillstone Group, which also owns Bandera, at which every visitor to Chicago is contractually obligated to at least consider having dinner.
Rich Melman to Lindsay Lohan: Rich Melman employed Michael Kornick at Eccentric. Michael Kornick co-owns DMK Burger Bar with David Morton, whose nephew Harry Morton (CEO of the appalingly named Pink Taco chain of restaurants) was Lindz's third-choice lover a few years back.
So by the transitive property, Rich Melman has totally hooked up with Lindsay Lohan. God, this is so much fun!