In their first restaurant venture, brothers R.J. and Jerrod Melman (sons of Richard Melman, founder of multiconcept operator Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises) created HUB 51 in Chicago’s River North area. Still in their 20s, the brothers wanted HUB 51 to draw customers in their age group yet appeal to a wider demographic.

“So we developed a concept to attract customers of all ages who want wonderful food and to have fun,” R.J. Melman says. Customers waiting for a dining-room table or just meeting with friends can relax in the bustling bar that features a 20-foot-long full-service counter and draft tower. An elevated DJ booth overlooks the bar and contributes to the cool vibe. Downstairs, a 1,400-square-foot lounge features a bar, dance floor and stage.

Food preparation at HUB 51 takes place in a 501-square-foot exposed kitchen. “Although separate, the hot line, pantry and sushi line are all located in the center of the room to maximize the speed of service,” says Beth Kuczera, HUB 51’s kitchen designer and president of Equipment Dynamics Inc. in Chicago. The entire back-of-the-house kitchen occupies 1,095 square feet.


The judges were impressed that food and beverage production and storage consume only 27 percent of HUB 51’s overall space. “This seems like the targeted standard, but it is harder to achieve on two levels and with expo cooking,” Kuczera says. “Seats and stools mean revenue, and this has never been more important than it is in today’s tight economic environment. We designed HUB 51 to be lean and tight.”

Other project highlights:

  • No wall sits at the back bar, which allows the space to transform from primarily a restaurant operation during the daytime and early evening hours to primarily a bar by late night. “The design still needed a designated bar pickup, and we were able to manage this without the view of a service station in the dining room,” Kuczera says.
  • The building’s columns provide a natural separation of cooking, bar, seating and VIP spaces.
  • The kitchen’s tight aisles mean cooks typically do not take more than two steps for meal execution.
  • Defined prep spaces for four prep staff members.
  • Accessible nonalcoholic drink and food pickup that supports the style of delivery.
  • Convenient dish drop and isolated wet zone.