New JUF event featuring Chicago food execs Levy and Melman to serve up food for thought

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From left: Larry Levy and Rich Melman.

Successful Chicago restaurateurs Larry Levy and Rich Melman are close friends with different backgrounds. While Levy has an MBA from Northwestern University, Melman built up his resume by working in restaurants ever since he was in his teens.  

"Rich Melman may have flunked out of five colleges," Levy joked, "but he is the most brilliant and prolific restaurateur in the world." Levy adds, "All of the industry celebs on the coasts pale in comparison to Rich's accomplishments over the past 50 years."

The feeling is mutual.  

"I absolutely care about and respect Larry very much," Melman said. "How can you help but not learn something from him?"

On Monday, May 15, the Chicago Jewish community will have the opportunity to learn from both men at a JUF event titled "Chicago Restaurateurs: A Three Course Conversation with Larry Levy & Rich Melman." The discussion between Levy and Melman will be moderated by their family friend, Jason Friedman. The event will be held at The Ivy Room in Chicago.

Levy, who has contributed to JUF for more than 40 years, is a JUF board member and the 2017 General Campaign Chairman. (Read story on p. 19) . Friedman is also a JUF board member.

This is the first event of its kind, according to Samantha Wolf, assistant vice president of the Missions and Campaign Department at JUF.  "This was very much the brainchild of Larry Levy," she said. "The goal of the evening, much like all of our events, is to bring the community together and to educate them on the JUF's work in an entertaining setting."

Levy has a passion for the Jewish community and philanthropy, for education in general, and for teaching the next generation about entrepreneurship.  "Larry brings tremendous passion and creativity to everything he does and has been a role model to so many," said David Prystowsky, vice president of Campaign at JUF.  "His willingness to provide his leadership to the JUF Annual Campaign and engage others about something so important to him and his wife, Carol, is just another example of what makes him so special.  Having Rich Melman, a giant of Chicago entrepreneurship, join Larry for this event is an incredible treat.  Levy and Melman, with Jason moderating, will be a highlight event for the year."  

In 1976, Levy opened his first restaurant, called D.B. Kaplan's Delicatessen, in Water Tower Place. He eventually revolutionized concessions sales at more than 100 sports arenas, stadiums, and other venues worldwide, including the former Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field. "We provide great restaurant-quality food at sports events," Levy said. 

For Levy, food means "hospitality and conversation," he said. "It's always been a part of my brother's and my life." Levy and his brother started Levy's company together. "We both love to eat."

Melman is the founder and chairman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. He's looking forward to the JUF discussion. "Larry and I are a good team together. We come from two different perspectives, respect each other and get along really well," he said.

People in the Chicago Jewish community have been requesting a food industry event like this for a long time.  "Chicago is an incredible food town," Wolf said. "We are lucky to have the support of two of the industry's best who are willing to speak and help raise funds to give back to the community.  

As Melman puts it, "I'm hoping people will walk away with an idea or two well worth the price of admission." 

Chicago Restaurateurs: A Three Course Conversation with Rich Melman, Larry Levy & Jason Friedman will take place on Monday, May 15 at 5:30 p.m. at the Ivy Room at 12 E. Ohio in Chicago.

The Couvert is $50 and requires a minimum gift of $1,000 to the 2017 JUF Annual Campaign.

Register online at . For more information, contact Samantha Wolf at (312) 357-4692 or  

Jessica Tobacman is a cantorial soloist, a music teacher, and a freelance journalist.


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