After 57 years, Ronny’s Original Chicago Steakhouse (née Ronny’s Steak Palace) — a longtime fixture in the Loop — has closed inside the Thompson Center. While this was not Ronny’s original location, longtime Chicagoans cherished the restaurant as a relic of a bygone time before city officials worked to redefine the North Loop with projects like Block 37.
Ronny’s was also the last of the “cheap steak” restaurants, a genre that dominated downtown for decades with restaurants like Beef and Brandy, Tad’s Steaks, and Mister Mike’s. Most of them had neon signs that brought a familiar and comforting glow to a once-seedy downtown district.
A team of investors, including Lenny Becker, opened Ronny’s in 1963. One of the restaurant’s managers, Herman Muncic, would eventually purchase the restaurant and became the driving force behind the restaurant, sometime mistaken as the founder. Muncic died in 2018 and left the business to son Kenny Muncic. Kenny Munic brought live music back to the restaurant that year, hoping to restore some of the restaurant’s grandeur. Muncic announced the closure over Labor Day weekend via Facebook:
“It’s been our honor and privilege to serve and employ our spectacular city’s citizens. From the corner of Randolph and State to Clark and Lake and all the locations in between, Ronny’s has stood as a beacon welcoming all of Chicago, and those from around the globe, into our dining room and family.”
Besides the red meat, the all-day restaurant served large portions, including breakfast plates loaded with hash browns and breaded pork chops. The steakhouse charged $9.99 for an 8-ounce steak, salad, garlic toast, and baked potato. Its customers weren’t looking for a fancy dry-aged chop, but came there for an affordable meal. The steakhouse was a welcoming place that served locals and tourists. The younger Muncic tells Eater Chicago that his father “a legend in his own time.”
“The legacy of Ronny’s is that hard work pays off,” Muncic says. “Herman, my father, led by example. He was the first one in and the last one to leave. He loved his crew, his suppliers — the unsung heroes of the industry — and his guests. This value lives on in myself, my mother and my siblings, as well as within all the staff members that have helped our family keep it going for the past 57 years.”
Chicago pundit Dan Sinker described his feelings about Ronny’s on Twitter, writing “Ah shit. RIP to one of the last vestiges of the old Loop.” Ronny’s held a mystique, complete with plaid tablecloths and a rustic and homey atmosphere.
Herman Muncic was an immigrant from Europe. He opened the original Ronny’s in 1963 at 16 W. Randolph Street. The space now houses Argo Tea, hammering home Sinker’s point about the Loop’s transformation. When Ronny’s first opened, the theatre district was known as “Chicago’s Rialto” and is where Ronny’s drew in customers. At one point, Ronny’s had various locations in the suburbs, plus six in the city. But as tastes changed (including more diners adopting a vegetarian diet, something the Tribune addressed in 1997) and developers’ hunger for downtown property grew, the Thompson Center location was the only Ronny’s left standing by 2000.
The pandemic has hit downtown businesses especially hard. As office towers keep doors closed, fewer folks come through the CTA’s turnstiles at the Thompson Center. Chicago tourism is sluggish. But, as Ronny closes, there’s a worry that more of Chicago’s restaurants like Ronny’s will be replaced by restaurants that don’t cater to the city’s working class.
“I’m not a prophet, pundit, or policy maker and I have no clue what the future holds for our fragile industry,” Muncic says. “I can tell you that the folks in this biz, from the guys in the dish pit to the exec chefs, the food runner to the GMs, are all busting their humps to make a very difficult industry viable for themselves, their families, and the folks who depend upon them to bring home a paycheck. I am hopeful that there will always be places in our city where hard working people can get a great meal at a reasonable price.”