Chicago has always adored the Rancics. After all, Bill grew up in Orland Park, went to Loyola, and started his career here. And the world got to watch as the couple’s life played out in the Gold Coast on the reality show “Giuliana and Bill,” first on the Style Network and then on E! Of course, there’s also their involvement with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises restaurants RPM Italian and RPM Steak, which they co-own with R.J., Jerrod, and Molly Melman.
While over the years their path has taken them away from Chicago — with Giuliana serving as a host of E! News in L.A., a gig she recently stepped back from — this has always been home. They now split their time between a Mag Mile apartment and a home in Brentwood, California. But you’re likely to spot them around the city now more than ever, as they just opened three new concepts at 317 N. Clark over the past seven months. There’s Pizzeria Portofino at the river level, where boats can dock and rosé flows; RPM Events, a private event space on the first floor; and RPM Seafood, a chic two-story marquee spot known for seafood towers (undoubtedly Bill’s favorite thing on the menu) and a bustling bar scene.
The restaurant has prime position on the Chicago River. A spot, it turns out, is especially close to Bill’s heart. “What the city has done with the river is incredible,” he says. “Seeing these boats, you almost feel like you’re in Amsterdam. It wasn’t like this growing up in Chicago, wasn’t even like this five years ago.”
For many, it would seem, they are living the dream. And those who followed Giuliana’s struggles with infertility and breast cancer on the show have found hope in their story. Now with 7-year-old son Duke, they are chasing new adventures. And after 12 years of marriage, they still manage to be partners in both business and love with Bill really managing the business side of many of their projects, and Giuliana handling creative aspects.
Count on Giuliana to pursue passion projects now more than ever. She recently decided to resign from being host of E! News when the network announced its move from L.A. to New York, happening later this year. She’ll continue to do red-carpet coverage for E! for all the major award shows with Ryan Seacrest. But for her, it was time.
“It was a big decision,” says Giuliana, 45. “I wouldn’t be able to do that plus be at home and also have these other businesses if I still had that day to day somewhere.”
That’s not to say she doesn’t still take her red-carpet work for E! very seriously, as she just wrapped up another award season. It takes a lot of preshow prep. “I quiz her beforehand,” Bill says. And even after two decades of being in the biz, Giuliana still gets all the feelings: “Excitement. Nerves. There are a lot of emotions, until the red light of the camera comes on and then I feel a sense of calm,” she says.
Now she can focus more on family and other projects. They include the HSN clothing line, G by Giuliana, which has expanded to 12 collections a year. Her new Giuliana Prosecco is now available online and in area restaurants. And her Fountain of Truth skin care line, which she developed after researching clean skin care post-breast cancer, is in Ulta Beauty stores across the country.
“I think a lot of it is leaving your ego at the door,” Giuliana says. “There are things I know and things I don’t. Recognizing and leaning on someone that does know is important.” Bill adds, “We both know our strengths and weaknesses and how we can help each other. It’s a good formula for us.”
The couple gets approached with business opportunities almost daily, but they turn down most of them.
“Usually everything comes out of a need,” Bill says, pointing to the skin care line as an example. “We don’t really add a lot of new things, rather focusing on growing what we have right now, but we have to be very passionate about it and believe in whatever it is.”
When Giuliana was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she was very public with her battle on the reality show. Now, nine years later, giving her time to cancer-related causes remains a priority. One of these is through Fab-U-Wish, a program in partnership with the breast cancer nonprofit the Pink Agenda, granting over 250 wishes to women battling breast and ovarian cancer.
“It’s been incredibly rewarding,” she says, “[Cancer] happened to me. It’s bad and you go through all of the emotions. But when you finally have that moment to surface and think about what you went through you realize you can help other people who are in that stage.”
Bill remains involved too, recently partnering with Northbrook-based Astellas pharmaceuticals on its C3 prize to provide grant money to small businesses making an impact in cancer care beyond the medicine part of the journey.
Nothing to them is more important than family. Both are very close with their extended families and don’t take parenthood for granted.
“We are lucky we started a little later,” says Bill, who’s 48. “If we had a child in our 20s — and for me 30s — I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it as much because I would have been working all of the time. Now, we spend a lot of time with Duke. We are very hands on.”
Bill and Duke spend time watching football together. “He knows all the stats — way more than me,” Bill says. “One day he wants to be a wide receiver; the other an engineer,” Giuliana chimes in.
Bill refers to their family as “small but mighty” and knows that restaurants will always be part of the DNA. The couple become restaurateurs eight years ago, when RPM Italian opened. It was part intentional, part happenstance. Giuliana was constantly being asked about her Italian mom’s pasta by friends and strangers who saw them on TV.
“I would get these tweets — ‘OMG I would do anything to eat mama Depandi’s pasta,’ ” she says, adding that she doesn’t claim to have inherited Mom’s cooking abilities.
Eventually, the Naples-born personality thought, Why not? She told Bill she wanted to open a 50-seat hole-in-the-wall Sinatra-style restaurant.
“I thought she was crazy,” he says. “The restaurant business is tough.”
Bill was pretty shocked when Giuliana brought it up dining out with former Chicago Bear Greg Olsen and his wife. Olsen suggested they may want to talk with the Melmans for advice about the restaurant business. So that’s what they did — even if there was a faux pas in their initial meeting, with Giuliana bragging about her “restaurant experience as a hostess for her uncle” while Bill swiftly kicked her under the table asking, “Have you seen their restaurant résumé, honey? Slightly bigger!” It all worked out in the end.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the RPM brand continue to grow. “People are always saying to open [in more cities],” says Giuliana. Many are looking for Mama Depandi’s famous bucatini, with some 240,000 orders placed in Chicago. “We’d love to expand… just at our own pace,” says Bill.
That might be because they’d love to expand their family, but are cautiously optimistic given their public struggles with infertility.
“Nothing quite yet to put out there,” says Giuliana. “We’ll put it in the big man’s hands above, but we’d love to. What’s meant to be will be.”
“Bill and I do a lot of really cool things as adults … a lot of things we love. But there is nothing that even comes close to the joy we get from our son and our family together. It’s just a different type of joy,” says Giuliana.
“Family is everything to us,” emphasizes Bill. “Family first.”
Gold Coast Rowhouse (111 E. Bellevue): Prior to marrying Giuliana, Bill bought a row house in the Gold Coast. The couple had a hand in renovating the spot that was close to Oak Street Beach. They sold it in 2009 for around $3.6 million.
Gold Coast Mansion (105 E. Bellevue): This is where they lived as a family of three. The Rancics bought this historic 1886 five-bedroom mansion in 2013 and gutted it before moving in. They sold it in February 2019 for $5 million.
RPM Italian (52 W. Illinois): Their first foray into the restaurant business. You’ll often see them dining here when in town — in the “R” booth named after them.
Hinsdale Mansion (422 E. Sixth, Hinsdale): On the show you may remember the Rancics taking a jaunt to look at a western suburban mansion that was in dire straits that they later purchased and completed rehabbed.
RPM Steak (66 W. Kinzie) This luxe steakhouse was the second RPM restaurant and features “The Duke,” a 10-ounce rib eye.
Pizzeria Portofino, RPM Events, RPM Seafood (317 N. Clark): This three-story property is a partnership with LEYE. “We love that we’re part of changing the riverfront,” says Bill. “It’s an honor to be involved in the beauty of the river.”
AT THE SHOOT
Giuliana Rancic and husband Bill spent a morning with our crew at their new Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, RPM Seafood, a month before its big opening. Their adoration for each other was on full display. And their love for Chicago was also stronger than ever. “It’s the greatest city in the world,” said Bill. “The architecture, the neighborhoods … it’s truly undervalued.”
Photographer: Maria Ponce
Wardrobe: Janet Mandell