Bob Chinn, whose Wheeling crab house is a destination for seafood lovers, dies at 99 – Chicago Tribune

Bob Chinn’s enormous crab house on Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling has hosted thousands of diners over the years and was once ranked among the best restaurants in the country by sales.

Chinn worked in the halls of his restaurants, talking to customers and making menu recommendations.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business since the late 1970s and I’ve never worked with an entrepreneur or a businessman who spent so much time talking to people,” said Frank D’Angelo, Bob’s former longtime general manager. Chinn Crab House.

“You came to dinner, he was part of your family – he would tell you what (food) to order and he would tell you how to eat it. “

Chinn, 99, died of natural causes on April 15 at his home in Northbrook, his daughter, Marilyn Chinn LeTourneau, said.

Born in Duluth, Minnesota, Chinn was the son of restaurateur Wai Chinn, who moved the family to Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood in the late 1920s. Chinn’s father worked at the downtown Oriental Gardens supper club, then owned the New Wilson Village restaurant in Uptown until his death in 1952.

Chinn briefly attended Lake View High School before leaving school to work in Chinese food delivery. After serving in the military during World War II, Chinn worked in the restaurant industry for Albert Pick & Co. and Edward Don & Co.

Chinn’s first venture into restaurant ownership was a Chinese restaurant in Evanston called the Golden Pagoda, which he started in 1955 using materials salvaged from the New Wilson Village restaurant after a fire. In 1958 Chinn began operating the House of Chan, a take-out restaurant and luau catering service on Green Bay Road in Wilmette.

In 1973 Chinn opened Kahala Terrace, a Polynesian restaurant on Dundee Road in Northbrook, with his brother Walter. In the early 1980s, he found a location in Wheeling for his seafood restaurant and sold his share of Kahala Terrace to his brother.

In December 1982, Chinn opened Bob Chinn’s Crab House, which attracted customers with crab legs and garlic rolls. The restaurant quickly expanded its capacity from 200 diners to over 600, and can now serve over 700 diners at a time.

Chinn eschewed wholesale seafood, which he didn’t find fresh enough, and instead struck up relationships with commercial fishing boats on both coasts. He traveled to O’Hare International Airport every day to buy fresh seafood for his restaurant.

Chinn also avoided dipping his seafood in sauces.

“Really fresh fish doesn’t need sauce,” he told the Tribune in 1993. “It just kills the flavor.”

The restaurant continues to be known for its festive atmosphere, with noise levels “equal in volume to a major convention at McCormick Place”, the Tribune wrote in 1993. By then, the restaurant had become the fifth largest country restaurant. , as measured by dollar volume, according to Restaurants & Institutions magazine, having served 1.2 million customers in 1992.

“I like a lot of energy, a lot of excitement,” Chinn told the Tribune in 1993. “At our restaurant, people like people watching.”

Chinn prided itself on offering low-cost, family-friendly dishes instead of the expensive outlets offered by white-tablecloth restaurants with celebrity chefs.

“They charge way too much for what you get,” Chinn told the Tribune in 1993. “We do more volume than all the four-star restaurants in Chicago combined. That tells you what kind of food people want.

D’Angelo said his former boss was constantly coming up with various innovations, whether related to service or the menu.

“His vision has always been about creating this wonderful experience for a customer,” D’Angelo said. “He always thought it was his ideas that would make people happy. And it worked.

Chinn never retired, although he spent winters in Hawaii, his family said.

Chinn’s wife of 69 years, Jean, died in 2016. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by one son, Michael; one brother, Howard; seven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

A Celebration of Life Service will be held from noon to 7:30 p.m. May 16 at Bob Chinn’s Crab House, 393 S. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling.

Goldsborough is a freelance journalist.

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