Business

Bob Chinn, creator of the famous restaurant in Wheeling, dies at 99

Bob Chinn, the creator of a longtime Restaurant Row anchor in Wheeling that has won local and national recognition as well as countless fans who’ve made it one of the highest-grossing restaurants in the country, has died at age 99, the restaurant said Friday.

“Today we lost a legend,” Bob Chinn’s Crab House posted on its Facebook page. “It’s with an extremely heavy heart that we announce the passing of our fearless leader, our friend, our family member — the one and only, Bob Chinn.”

“To know him was to love him, and he was known by so many. His larger-than-life personality and famous taste buds gave us 99 fantastic years of excitement, innovation and countless smiles.”

The restaurant management referred inquiries to Chinn’s family, which has not yet commented.

Chinn was 59 and already an experienced businessman and restaurateur when he and his daughter Marilyn Chinn LeTourneau opened the restaurant that would come to define his legacy.




The goal was great: to operate a seafood restaurant thousands of thousands from where the best fresh seafood is caught.

After around 4 years of planning and development, the restaurant opened two days before Christmas in 1982 and caught on with diners. Its 175-seat capacity grew to 650 seats in just a few years. Now it has 800 seats, the restaurant’s Facebook page says.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

Chinn said he picked Wheeling for his restaurant because he wanted to entice customers from both the city and the Northern suburbs but without having to pay North Shore real estate prices.

While customer favorites like the garlic rolls and mai tais are always available, much of the menu changes based on the seafood that’s jetted in from Alaska, Hawaii or even farther away. The restaurant staff often picks up the seafood many times a day right from O’Hare International Airport.

The Crab House says it employs at least a few hundred people. The staggering crowds have landed the restaurant on impressive lists over the years, such as in 2012 when Forbes declared Bob Chinn’s to be the country’s highest-grossing restaurant after estimating it brought in $24 million in annual revenue, not including alcohol sales.

“I feel so excited about this, for me, a little businessman, to get this kind of recognition,” Chinn told the Daily Herald after the Forbes piece.

Chinn chalked the restaurant’s success up to the basics: offering very reasonable prices, fantastic food and great, friendly service.

Chinn was born in Duluth, Minnesota on March 2, 1923, the third of seven children, according to a profile on the Bob Chinn’s website. His parents, Wai and Yung Shee Ong Chinn, immigrated from Toishan, a city in southeastern China near Macao. His parents ran a restaurant in Chicago, and the family lived just two blocks from Wrigley Field, which kindled Bob’s lifelong Cubs fandom.

Some careers begin with a spark of inspiration. In Chinn’s case, that spark was an actual fire. He opened his first restaurant, The Golden Pagoda in Evanston, using equipment his parents sold to him after their restaurant was damaged by a fire, the Bob Chinn’s website says.

Several other restaurants followed over the decades, but none brought him nearly as much adulation as his eponymous crab house.

The restaurant’s Facebook post announcing the news generated hundreds of comments, such as “He never failed to make us feel like a guest in his own home” and “For decades we have been going to Bob Chinn’s.” Many said Chinn always greeted them with a smile, and they supplied anecdotes like how he gave out free mimosas to people waiting in line.

Former employees also commented.

“I spent 9 years at Chinn’s & made some really dear friends there,” Lisa Langfeldt posted. “You could always learn something from Bob.”

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