Your NPR news source

Rich Varnes: RL's leading man

RL manager Rich Varnes says he runs the exclusive Gold Coast spot like “a private club that everyone’s invited to.”

SHARE Rich Varnes: RL's leading man

“Rich has a phone call,” an attractive young hostess calls out from her podium inside RL Restaurant without looking up from the day’s reservations.

It’s 10:30 on a Wednesday morning and the elegant mahogany dining room is already a flurry of activity as the staff, handsomely dressed in crisp white shirts and boldly-colored Ralph Lauren ties, preps for the lunch clientele of well-to-do power-lunchers who will soon trickle in.

I don’t actually see manager Rich Varnes when he darts behind me to take the call, but I feel the breeze he leaves in his wake. “It’s Michael Sneed’s office calling to shake me out,” he laughs; the Sun-Times columnist will often hit up Varnes for the names of local celebrities who have recently dined at the restaurant.

Varnes has managed RL since Gibsons Restaurant Group took over management responsibilities in 2001, and says he runs the place “like a private club that everyone’s invited to.” RL’s loyal patrons would probably agree; it’s this philosophy — and the simple but satisfying American fare — that keeps them coming back.

You can see for yourself, as WBEZ visits the restaurant manager who wears his Ralph Lauren suit like a smile.

Kitchen Close-ups offers an intimate introduction to characters in Chicago’s food and dining scene. The series runs weekly at

The Latest
Liesl Olson started as director at The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum earlier this month. She joins WBEZ to talk about her future plans for this landmark of Chicago history. Host: Melba Lara; Reporter: Lauren Frost
The city faces criticism for issuing red light camera tickets at intersections where yellow lights fall slightly short of the city’s 3-second policy. And many traffic engineers say the lights should be even longer.
There was a time Chicago gave New York a run for its money. How did we end up the Second City?
Union Gen. Gordon Granger set up his headquarters in Galveston, Texas, and famously signed an order June 19, 1865, “All slaves are free.” President Biden made Juneteenth a federal holiday last year.
As the U.S. celebrates the second federal holiday honoring Juneteenth, several myths persist about the origins and history about what happened when enslaved people were emancipated in Texas.