Rich Varnes: RL’s leading man

Rich Varnes: RL’s leading man

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“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