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Ronny’s Steakhouse: A life well done
Ronny’s Original Chicago Steak House is celebrating 50 years as a Loop landmark.
Ronny’s never had the cache’ of the Berghoff, whose historic streak in the Loop was broken in 2006 when it “closed” through crafty union busting techiniques, or the Italian Vilage (est. 1927) which remains a trip back into the swinging nocturnal 1950s.
At one time there were six Ronny’s in downtown Chicago.
Ronny’s was to meat what the Daleys were to juice…….
…….When Ronny’s opened in 1963 at 16 W. Randolph, the Bears were marching to an NFL title at Wrigley Field. The White Sox won 94 games with guys like Sherm, Hoyt, and Jim Landis, whose career was interrupted by a nine-month military stint picking up rocks in Alaska.
Fans did not chant “Paulie” at old Comiskey Park.
Chicago was tougher.
Today there is just one Ronny’s, 100 W. Randolph St. in the State of Illinois Building [(312) 346-9488. It is an amazing place, starting with forest green upholstered booths the size of igloos.
Everything that is old becomes new again—really, it does—and Ronny’s fits in well in today’s impatient world.
Jon Sall and I visited Ronny’s earlier today. Here is our video doc. Enjoy Jon’s Rib Cam.
A couple weeks ago I had lunch with my friend Jake Austen at Ronny’s. Through cafeteria style service, I had a huge salad, chicken soup and a glass of ice water. I zipped through the cafeteria line in less than three minutes. It was around one o’ clock on a Friday.
Ronny’s is open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.
Their menu will crack you up.
Besides assorted steaks, there’s a half slab of ribs with baked potato, garlic bread and chef’s salad ($10.99) and even a bottle of champagne ($22.50).
The owner of Ronny’s is not named Ronny at all.
He is Herman Munic, who grew up in Rogers Park.
“When we started there were something like eight operations like this downtown,” Munic, 74, said. “There was a Mr. Mike’s. Tad’s (known for $1.09 steaks in the late 1950s). They were the Granddaddy of them all. I worked for them. They were next to the Chicago Theatre.” Munic didn’t mention George Diamond’s, 512 S. Wabash and 1133 S. Wabash where the steak was delivered on a charcoal heated brazier.
“When Ronny’s opened in 1963 I came on as a manager,” Munic said. “I bought into the company. Eventually everybody passed away or sold out. And here we are.”
The walls of Ronny’s are lined with black and white photos of celebrity diners.
A photo of late hipster saint David Janssen–the original “Fugitive” —hangs near an autographed photo of Hale Berry near the front of the cafeteria line. “David Janssen came to the Ronny’s on Randolph Street,” Munic says. “Cary Grant was in Randolph Street. Halle Berry has been in here. We get a lot of people from the Goodman Theatre here.”
Since Ronny’s is in the State of Illinois building I wondered if former Gov. Rod Blagojevich ever had steaks or the “Ultimate Pancake Breakfast” (3 pancakes, steak or ham, 2 eggs, hash browns, syrup and lots of butter; $8.99) at Ronny’s. “No,” Munic answered. “We do get a lot of aldermen.”
Munic then zigged off into a tangent. “I was in basic training in the Army with Elvis Presley,” he said. “Fort Hood, Texas. He was in my unit. 2nd Armored Division. Then we went out to Germany. Hell on wheels.”
Ronny’s eventually succumbed to the sizzle of progress in downtown Chicago.
“The Old Heidelberg (and once the Noble Fool Theatre, 16 W. Randolph) is a high rise,” he said. “The one on 160 North State Street is now owned by the Art Institute. The one on 17 East Washington Street is a clothing store. We had one at State and Madison. That’s a Toys ‘R Us. We had one next to the Federal building in Quincy Court. It’s a shoe store now. Van Buren and Wabash is a parking lot.”
Ronny’s opened in 2000 at it’s current location.
Steakhouses were popular in Chicago because of the city’s ties with the 375-acre Union Stock Yards (1865-1971), not far from Old Comiskey Park. Dozens of meatpacking companies were near the yards including Armour, Morris and Swift & Company where my father began his career. “Creme De Coca Steaks” were the cattle buyer’s term for the finest in beef.
“When we started in 1963 it was a 14-ounce steak with a big potato, salad, garlic bread, and it was a $1.19,” Munic says. “Now we’re serving an eight ounce steak and it’s $7.99. So the sizes have come down, but the prices are moderate. If we would have kept up with inflation and wages, we would have to get $17 for a 14-ounce steak.
“Eating habits changed yes and no. We still sell a lot of 14-ounce steaks, we also sell 20 ounce steaks for $23.99. But our number one selling steak is the eight ounce. We used to feed 2,100 people a day.
“Now we go through about 2,000 (7-oz. steaks) a week. Barbecue (chicken, ribs, etc.) is our second best selling item. We have about 50 items here. We serve it to you as you walk through the line. By the time you get to the cashier it is waiting for you.”
Ronny’s employs 22 people. Some workers are third generation. The store’s meat is purveyed from Stampede Meat (est. 1995) in Bridgeview.
Ronny’s has treated Munic well. He and his wife Barbara have three fine children: his son Robert is a film director who lives in Los Angeles. Robert Munic, 46, directed Michael Frank Duncan in “They Call Me Sir” for HBO and the hit TV series “The Cleaner.” Daughter Staci Munic Mintz Kaplan, 45, is an interior designer in Highland Park and Ken Munic, 42, runs a Little Miss Muffin bakery at Irving Park and Rockwell.
So by now you must wonder why Ronny’s is not called Herman’s.
“Ronny was one of the partners when it started,” Munic explained. “He had all daughters. He knew of the Tad’s steakhouse. So he named it Ronny’s after the son want-to-be-that never happened.”
And Ronny’s remains as one of the Loop’s most happening spots.