Lettuce Entertain You bringing four-level restaurant space to riverfront

From www.chicagotribune.com by Ryan Ori
Lettuce Entertain You bringing four-level restaurant space to riverfront

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is expanding its food empire into a huge, four-level space along the Chicago River that will be one of the largest projects in its 47 years.

The space will include two restaurants and a private events space.

The 35,000-square-foot space is part of a $50 million upgrade of the office tower at 321 N. Clark St., along the northern edge of the Chicago River, a project expected to contribute to the city’s ongoing efforts to bring more people and businesses to the riverfront.

Across the river from the uninterrupted riverwalk, the restaurants will be accessible from the street, lobby and boat slips. The restaurants are expected to open by summer 2019, said R.J. Melman, Lettuce Entertain You partner and president, the son of founder Rich Melman.

Seafood restaurant RPM On The Water will occupy two levels, in a redeveloped building lobby and a newly constructed mezzanine, R.J. Melman said. During warm-weather months, there will be 100 outdoor patio seats.

A 300-seat banquet space for wedding receptions and other catered private events will be on the level below the lobby. At river level, Lettuce Entertain You will have a yet-to-be-named casual restaurant in the former Bridge House Tavern space, Melman said.

Glass-topped boat to offer dinner cruises on the Chicago River in 2018 »

The other RPM partners are chef Doug Psaltis, Jerrod and Molly Melman of Lettuce Entertain You, and celebrity businessman Bill Rancic and his wife Giuliana Rancic. The seafood concept follows RPM Italian in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and RPM Steak in Chicago.

The project will occur in an office tower whose owners include another big name in the Chicago restaurant world: Larry Levy.

“When Larry Levy and the Hines group came to us, we knew it was a spectacular location,” R.J. Melman said. “It’s a big undertaking for us, but we’ve very excited to do it.”

A venture of Diversified Real Estate Capital, which Levy helped found in 2003, and Los Angeles-based American Realty Advisors paid $340 million for the office tower in August 2016. Seller Hines maintained a small ownership stake in the deal, and continues to oversee the building’s leasing and management.

Levy built a vast restaurant and sports arena concessions business before selling a 49 percent stake in Levy Restaurants to British firm Compass Group in 2000. Levy sold the remaining 51 percent of the company to Compass in 2006.

These days, the Chicago entrepreneur invests in commercial real estate, restaurants and other businesses. Levy has been friends with Rich Melman for several decades.

The spaces became available when Bridge House Tavern closed late last year and a big office tenant in the building, the American Bar Association, moved out of space in lower areas of the tower.

The association restructured its lease and consolidated its space on higher floors. In the long-term lease renewal of its headquarters space, the ABA will occupy 161,000 square feet on the 17th through 22nd floors, according to real estate brokerage Savills Studley.

The legal profession membership group was represented in the deal by Savills Studley brokers Eric Feinberg, John Goodman, Joe Learner, Renae Bradshaw and Rich Dale.

The building’s overhaul, which will include a renovated lobby connected to a new glass curtain wall, Clark Street entrance and canopy, will be completed by the spring, said Brian Atkinson, a Hines managing director who represented the owners in the restaurant and ABA deals. The building’s owners will add a tenant lounge and upgrade the fitness center. Upgrades to lower levels of the office tower were designed by Goettsch Partners and Rockwell Group.

Lettuce Entertain You owns a large roster of restaurants including Hub 51, Summer House Santa Monica, Shaw’s Crab House, Wow Bao and Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba. The Chicago-based restaurant company also operates the Foodlife food hall in the Water Tower Place mall on Michigan Avenue.

Rich Melman founded Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises in 1971, when he opened R.J. Grunts in Lincoln Park. The company now has more than 120 restaurants in nine states.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Lettuce executives and the building owners are expected to formally unveil the plans Monday.

“By investing in Chicago’s riverfront we have transformed it into the city’s next recreational frontier,” Emanuel said in a news release. “Making the riverfront a public priority is now driving private investment that will create jobs and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.”

Since his administration embarked on the expansion of the Chicago Riverwalk, Emanuel regularly has drawn attention to new projects or businesses seeking to locate near the river. The mayor also has had a regular practice of drawing attention to events and businesses tied to his campaign donors.

In promoting Lettuce Entertain You’s new project along the river, Emanuel checks both boxes.

Lettuce executives have been reliable campaign contributors to the mayor. Since Emanuel first ran for office in 2010, the mayor has received nearly $554,000 in Melman-tied contributions. Lettuce in recent years has secured lucrative deals to run restaurants at O’Hare and Midway airports, the Chicago Tribune has reported.

rori@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @Ryan_Ori

MORE REAL ESTATE NEWS FROM RYAN ORI

$184 million loan on Kushner-owned Loop office tower faces scrutiny »

Co-working firm Spaces to take over Sports Authority building in River North »

Iconic Wrigley Building expected to go up for sale, could fetch more than $200 million »

Around the Web