One of the most high-profile partners at Chicago’s largest restaurant group, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, is no longer with the company. Executive Chef Doug Psaltis, who oversaw numerous LEYE restaurants — including its sceney and star-driven RPM division, which is operated in collaboration with celebrity couple Bill and Giuliana Rancic — has officially separated from the company. LEYE co-founder Rich Melman delivered the news of Psaltis’s departure personally during meetings with key staff over the weekend.
While LEYE didn’t provide the details behind Psaltis’s departure, three people who have worked at or are currently employed by LEYE told Eater that Psaltis attacked a colleague last week at RPM Steak in River North, grabbing and violently shaking him by the shoulders. He also allegedly insulted the man, who has been a long-time kitchen receiver (responsible for tracking inventory in the kitchen) by using a pejorative for the mentally disabled. According to sources, a security camera captured footage of the incident. Psaltis did not respond to questions about the alleged attack, and LEYE neither confirmed nor denied this account.
News of the departure began spreading over the weekend, sparking much discussion in Chicago’s restaurant community. LEYE, which was founded in 1971 and is now led by Melman and his children, encompasses 120 restaurants and bars — including Beatrix, Ema, and its original restaurant, R.J. Grunts in Lincoln Park — with several distinct divisions, from fast-casual restaurants to fine dining. Psaltis has been a key player in the company: His former division is considered one of the jewels of the empire, regularly luring celebrity diners — from Justin Bieber to Ashlee Simpson to Janet Jackson — who help keep LEYE’s restaurants in the spotlight.
TV stars Bill and Giuliana Rancic — Bill won the first season of the Apprentice in 2004, Giuliana is an E! Network anchor — are also partners at RPM, including Washington, D.C.’s RPM Italian. The “R” in “RPM” stands for Rancic, the “P” stands for Psaltis, and “M” for Melman; two ex-employees expressed concern over the future of the RPM name as the company distances itself from Psaltis. Requests for comment sent to a spokesperson for the Rancics went unreturned.
Earlier this year, Tribune critic Phil Vettel lavished praise upon Psaltis: “They just don’t come any more versatile than this gentleman.” Psaltis is an alum of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, and leveraged connections there and elsewhere to lure top talent to LEYE. He also made sure that Chicago got to experience trends like pricey wagyu cutlets. Psaltis earned a name for himself outside the restaurant world with the annual Windy City Smokeout, a well-attended two-day outdoor barbecue and country music festival.
Several former LEYE workers expressed little surprise over Psaltis’s departure to Eater. Some former employees shared a nickname for Psaltis that employees used behind his back to make light of his tendency to yell and curse at staff in public: “Doug Assault-is.” A former bartender at River North tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash said he had “a handful of run-ins” with Psaltis, who multiple times got in his face and questioned his performance. “He would pick tiny fights to demonstrate his place in the pecking order,” he said. Psaltis was regularly confrontational with, and often insulted, other staff members, he added. Another former LEYE bartender said Psaltis’s temper was one of the reasons he left the group. The company would not comment beyond the statement below, declining to answer if a pattern of behavior precipitated or contributed to Psaltis’s exit.
Neither LEYE nor Psaltis elaborated on a reason for his departure in provided statements. LEYE sent in the following statement:
“As of November 1, Doug Psaltis is no longer with Lettuce Entertain You. The LEYE restaurants that he was involved with will continue operations as usual including the RPM restaurants and Windy City Smokeout.
Doug is a talented chef, and as we do with all of our alumni, we wish him well in his future endeavors.
It is Lettuce Entertain You’s policy to not comment on personnel matters. We respect the privacy of all our employees both past and present.”
Psaltis, on Monday, provided these comments:
“In less than 10 years, we’ve accomplished more than I ever dreamed possible. It’s been an honor to work with Rich Melman, all our of our partners, chefs, managers, front and back of house team members and so many others that made these ventures successful. I’m very proud of everything we’ve achieved. As I move on to new projects, I will look forward to seeing these restaurants and the individuals running them continue to grow and provide extraordinary experience to all of our loyal patrons.”
Psaltis’s responsibilities included supervising Bub City, the country music-themed barbecue restaurants in River North and suburban Rosemont, and Ramen-san, the casual Japanese restaurants in River North and Fulton Market. He also oversaw a handful of River North spots: Italian restaurant Il Porcellino, wine bar Bar Ramone, Three Dots and a Dash, and Studio Paris. The latter was the glitzy dance club that celebrities including Chance the Rapper once frequented.
Significantly, Psaltis also shaped LEYE’s massive $50 million project along the Chicago Riverwalk, which was announced by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Melman family in March. The ground-floor restaurant overlooking the river, Pizzeria Portofino opened in July, followed by the private event space, RPM On The Water, last month. The opening for the final piece of the four-level project, RPM Seafood — selected as one of the most anticipated openings of 2019 — has been delayed until January.
The company hasn’t said how it will fill Psaltis’s role, only stating that the Windy City Smokeout will return next year and that the restaurants under his division would continue business as usual. Psaltis’s bio was removed from LEYE’s site on Wednesday morning where he was listed as a partner.
Psaltis’s exit is on the heels of a lawsuit by former LEYE public relations member Emily Wong. She claims the company fired her in retaliation for reporting an incident with a colleague. Wong is also suing former LEYE sommelier Ryan Arnold for sexual assault, alleging that he initiated inappropriate sexual contact with her at his apartment. Arnold had moved to Austin, Texas, to work with McGuire Moorman Hospitality; when news of the lawsuit broke last month, the Texas restaurant group placed Arnold on leave. Psaltis is not referenced in Wong’s complaint and she makes no allegations against him in her lawsuit.