Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs Evening with RJ Melman

A breathtaking ice sculpture featuring the Harvard crest, mouthwatering seafood towers, exquisite wine, and Millionaire’s chocolate cake with 24-karat gold helped set the stage for a vibrant evening with RJ Melman at RPM Steak on Thursday, July 16.

I hosted the evening with my Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs Chicago chapter co-founders/co-chairs Benjamin Bornstein, president of Prospero Capital Management, and Anthony Chirchirillo, CEO of Chirch Global Manufacturing. “Making Lettuce Entertain You Hip” was our first HAE event, and we couldn’t be more pleased with its success.

The restaurant was filled with the energy of highly driven creative thinkers, from the seasoned serial entrepreneurs to many NextGen (28 and younger) young professionals. We were all inspired by Mr. Melman, co-creator of many restaurants within the family company Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE).

“RJ is a wonderful speaker and a true inspiration to the next generation of entrepreneurs, who turned out in great numbers for this event,” wrote Pierre Lasserre, club manager-sommelier at The Carlton Club in the Ritz-Carlton Chicago. “RJ is very genuine and down to earth, bringing back business entrepreneurship to its essence.”

I was impressed by the way Mr. Melman’s family works together. He’s often asked about living in the shadow of his father, Rich Melman, LEYE founder and board chairman, but he believes that each family member has the opportunity to participate in greater achievement working together than they would separately. “I was moved by RJ’s sincerity when he spoke of his father and family legacy. A true American dream and an inspiration to all of the young entrepreneurs in the room,” wrote Yana Nirshberg, managing partner at ParadigmNEXT.

His description of the family’s creative process was inspiring, with an unusually strong basis in core vision. He explained that a future restaurant could be inspired by almost anything, from a traditional pub to a person’s striking outfit. From that initial seed, the creators build the concept, including the menu and the interior design and ambiance. Only after this image development do they choose a location – one that they can tell up front will fit their vision. He contrasted this method with finding the location first and then thinking, “What can I fit into that spot?”

“I’ve heard lots about the Melman family in the past, but had no idea how intelligent, thoughtful and industrious this young man is,” wrote Lisa Adelstein, director at Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas. “He shared enlightening facts about what makes a restaurant a success and why so many ultimately fail [and] answered questions about what it’s like to work with an entrepreneurial family, ideas that have been successful, and how he’s overcome concepts that initially were not successful.”

“A sincere thank you to the founders of HAE Chicago for the phenomenal job of coordinating the inaugural event at RPM Steak,” wrote Michael A. Chirchirillo of Chirch Global Manufacturing. “It surpassed all of our expectations, particularly with the superb elegance of the venue, impressive caliber of attendees and captivating Q&A with RJ Melman. I’m excited to see what is on the horizon for this unique, progressive group.”

I was honored to also receive several comments about my role in HAE and the event with Mr. Melman. “Only Aleksandra could bring together monumental figures in the City of Chicago, and a diverse audience that was so much fun to be with!” wrote Lisa Adelstein.

“Nothing less is expected when Aleksandra is the host,” Yana Nirshberg wrote. “Her multifaceted support and dedication to the Chicago entrepreneurial community is really limitless. It’s people like her who make Chicago’s startup ecosystem possible by mentoring and constantly sharing her knowledge and experiences to accelerate growth and help young businesses get over their growing pains.”