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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Learning by listening to people

If you’ve been to Chicago in the last thirty years, chances are you have seen or visited a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant. I’ve personally been to dozens of them, and waited with bated breath for the Maggiano’s in Scottsdale to open a few years ago. The enterprise was founded by Rich Melman and his partner Jerry Orzoff. Rich was raised in Chicago and sold peanuts and ice cream on the beach when he was a kid. Rich went to college for a while and decided it wasn’t for him, so he dropped out, and unsuccessfully tried to convince his father to let him buy into the family business. Then Rich met Orzoff. Orzoff believed in Rich and together they raised $17,000 to start their first restaurant, RJ Grunts. This restaurant quickly became the hottest place in Chicago, so the pair decided to start other restaurant concepts. Orzoff passed away ten years into the business startup, but Rich continued and today Lettuce owns and operates 70 restaurants nationwide, employing over 5000 people. Rich shares his secrets for success on his website: “We're a very disciplined organization. People think of us as creative--and I do believe we possess creativity--but more importantly, we play good solid ball. Our costs are good. We surround ourselves with good people and we train them well...not a lot of fancy stuff, just the basics. And, we work very hard. We've had the ability to give people what they want almost before they know they want it. You can call it trendsetting. I prefer to call it the ability to listen to people."