Bob Chinn, the creator of the famous Wheeling restaurant, dies at the age of 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 have made it one of the most lucrative restaurants in the country, has died at the age of 99, the restaurant said Friday.

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

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

The restaurant management referred inquiries to Chinn’s family, who have 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 was to come to define his legacy.

The goal was amazing: to run a fish restaurant thousands of miles from where the best fresh seafood is caught.

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


Chinn said he chose Wheeling for his restaurant because he wanted to lure customers from both the city and the northern suburbs, but without having to pay North Shore property prices.

While customer favorites like the garlic rolls and mai tais are always available, much of the menu changes based on seafood coming in from Alaska, Hawaii or even further afield. Restaurant staff often pick up seafood many times a day straight 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, as in 2012, when Forbes declared Bob Chinn’s the country’s most lucrative restaurant after estimating it brought in $ 24 million in annual revenue, not including alcohol sales.

“I’m so excited about this, for me, a small businessman, to get this kind of recognition,” Chinn told the Daily Herald after the Forbes play.

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

Chinn was born in Duluth, Minnesota on March 2, 1923, the third of seven children, according to a profile on 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 ignited Bob’s lifelong Cubs fandom.

Some careers begin with a spark of inspiration. In Chinn’s case, that spark was a real 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, Bob Chinn’s website says.

Several other restaurants followed in the decades, but none brought him near as much admiration 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’ve gone to Bob Chinn’s.” Many said Chinn always greeted them with a smile, and they provided anecdotes like how he gave free mimosas to people standing in line.

Former employees also commented.

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

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