R.J. Grunts opens
Photo: Candice C. Cusic/Chicago Tribune

June 10, 1971

With 130 restaurants and 7,500 employees at its 2019 peak, Rich Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises is the King Kong of Chicago restaurant groups. And it all started in Lincoln Park with burgers, a salad bar (some say the country’s first), and a name composed of the first initials of the owners and the sound a pig makes. Casual, upscale, and with just the right amount of ersatz nostalgia, the formula Melman and partner Jerry Orzoff hit on remains encoded in the company’s DNA — and has been copied by countless restaurateurs across the country.