The 100 Most Powerful Chicagoans: Rich Melman

The 100 Most Powerful Chicagoans: Rich Melman

Chicago Magazine |
Feb 14, 2012

If any place breeds power, it’s Chicago. “Clout” and the city have gone together since the early 1900s, when our Irish Catholic forefathers clapped a stranglehold on the levers of authority that they have been loath to relinquish in modern times. Even in recent years, the general pecking order was clear: There was Richard M. Daley, then the rest. But last year the Man on Five vacated his throne, and Oprah threw us over for Tinseltown. Blago was busted, Rahm arrived, and Groupon, the web upstart that sounded like a fish special, became a multi-billion-dollar baby. Roiling the status quo, too, was a still-troubled economy that gaveth power and tooketh it away.

To be sure, some of the old guard still hold sway (Pritzkers, Crowns, Madigans). But the arrival of Rahm and departure of Oprah signal a seismic shift—one that begs a fresh examination of the city’s shot callers and game changers. So we tapped our extended network, quizzing everyone from under-the-radar players to leaders in dozens of industries, and determined the top 100 people who really make the city go.

Power often springs from wealth. But in Chicago, perhaps more than in most places, the rawest source of influence gushes from the fountainhead of political might. For much of our history, that meant a ward machine dominated by white Irish Catholic men. This power structure found its purest expression in the American Pharaoh himself: Da Mare, Richard J. Daley, the undisputed boss for 21 years. (His “idea of affirmative action was nine Irishmen and a Swede,” according to his press secretary, Frank Sullivan.)

The past, to some extent, has been prologue. Our list is dominated by white men, but it looks more diverse than it would have a decade or two ago. The arenas where power resides are shifting. As leaders in culture and food make bold influence grabs, we’ve reassessed what gives someone clout—it’s not necessarily wealth or position, but the power to influence; to electrify crowds; to inspire devotion. That’s why you’ll spy names on the list like Grant Achatz and Derrick Rose, Martha Lavey and Theo Epstein.

Our only requirement was that the listees’ primary residence be in the Chicago area and that they spend a significant amount of time here. That has led to quirks. For instance, the most powerful man in the world, President Obama, does not appear on the list (he tops our Chicago-on-the-Potomac roster of expats).

Some choices—and omissions—may be controversial. Good. Tell us who you think we snubbed, who we placed too high or too low, and who we ranked just right in the comments here. We want to know, really. Knowledge, after all, is you-know-what.

56. Richard Melman

AGE: 70
OCCUPATIONFounder and chairman, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises

Foodies love to cluck that the head of Chicago’s biggest restaurant group has lost his golden touch—or that he has passed the mantle to sons R.J. and Jerrod (see “Power Siblings”). Said foodies are usually eating at one of Melman’s 75 packed restaurants at the time.

Media Contact

Emily Clark pr@leye.com 773-878-7340

You May Also Like...

How To
How To Win (2X, 3X, 4X even 5X Points) All Summer Long
Jul 5, 2018

Everyone we know loves summer and everyone we know also loves to win. So what if we told you that…

read more >

Recent Posts

How To
How to Make Ema’s Avocado & Sweet Pea Spread with Vegetable Crudite
Jul 17, 2018

Here's a great recipe to add a little green to your summer BBQ spread. Slice up your favorite…

read more >
Openings
3 Reasons Why You Should Check Out the Newest Wow Bao
Jul 16, 2018

Whether you work near Chicago's Magnificent Mile or you're more of a frequent shopper, you may have…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Because Mac & Cheese Deserves Its Own Holiday
Jul 14, 2018

In celebration of National Mac & Cheese day on July 14, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Listen Up: The 2018 Curated Windy City Smokeout Playlist Is Here
Jul 11, 2018

This year's Windy City Smokeout music lineup sees up-and-comers, seasoned stars and downright…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Here’s Where to Happy Hour
Jul 10, 2018

It's 5 o'clock somewhere! Here are all the happy hour deals at select Lettuce Entertain You…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Where to Celebrate Bastille Day
Jul 10, 2018

Vive la France! Come celebrate Bastille Day, the French National Day and anniversary of the Storming…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Sip on RPM Italian’s Tableside Gin & Tonics
Jul 9, 2018

There are new Gin & Tonics in town at RPM Italian in Washington, D.C. and RPM Steak in Chicago,…

read more >
How To
Sip on Big Bowl’s Blackberry-Rosemary Sangria
Jul 9, 2018

Entertaining your crew at home? Try making Big Bowl's Blackberry, Rosemary Sangria recipe for…

read more >
In The Restaurants
The 2018 Windy City Smokeout Menu Lineup
Jul 7, 2018

Listen closely... Is that a guitar riff you hear or is it your stomach growlin'? Either way, we've…

read more >
How To
How To Win (2X, 3X, 4X even 5X Points) All Summer Long
Jul 5, 2018

Everyone we know loves summer and everyone we know also loves to win. So what if we told you that…

read more >
In The Restaurants
All The Reasons Why We Love Fried Chicken
Jul 4, 2018

Fact: there's never a bad time for fried chicken. Grab it on your way to the beach, order it up for…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Now Serving: Naoki’s Fried Chicken
Jul 4, 2018

Come check out Naoki's famous Fried Chicken which pairs beautifully with crisp and refreshing…

read more >
Lettuce Consulting Group

Grow Your Business

Learn More
Career Opportunities

Join Our Team

Search Jobs
Latest Articles

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign Up Now

Lettuce on Instagram

Checkout our feed @lettuceentertainyou!