Whether the buildout becomes reality TV fodder remains to be seen, but the big news is that RJ, Jerrod and Molly Melman have partnered with Bill and Giuliana Rancic for a new Italian restaurant. The still-unnamed spot will take over the Ben Pao space, which is set to close on Sept. 10.
While many details are still yet to be revealed, chef partner Doug Psaltis (Paris Club, L20) will head up the kitchen and RJ Melman said they've already been doing a lot of cooking in the Lettuce Entertain You test kitchen. On their reality show, Giuliana and Bill, the couple has discussed wanting to open an Italian restaurant named Mama DiPandi's, based on Giuliana's mother's recipes. How much input she'll have on the menu is still to be determined, according to Melman, but they will be filming during the restaurant's construction.
Melman said they got together with the Rancics after mutual friend and now-former Chicago Bears tight end Greg Olsen introduced them about a year ago. The Melmans knew the reality stars wanted to open a restaurant and found them to be good people. "She brings an Italian sensibility that's great, I found Bill to be knowledgeable and they love food," Melman said. "They have an ability to reach a great audience. They're good people to have on your side."
In last week's episode of Giuliana & Bill, the couple discussed whether to open their proposed restaurant in Chicago or in LA, where they also have a home. The next episode airs tonight on the Style Network.
Speaking of style, the Melmans have once again tapped New York-based design firm Monolayer, which designed the first floor at Paris Club, to create the aesthetic for the new space, which is scheduled to open toward the end of January of 2012.
"No matter what, we're very serious about the food and what's going on," Melman said. "We have a great team there."
· Lettuce Closing Ben Pao [~EChi~]