Bob Chinn's Crab House

Bob Chinn's has been an institution since 1982 in Wheeling IL. For over 25 years we have served some of the Freshest Seafood from around the globe- Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand- just to name a few. Specializing in seafood, we're also known for our wet-aged prime steaks that are comparable to some of the best steakhouses. Starting off as a restaurant that only seated 200, expanded to over 700 seats in just 5 years. Come inside and judge for yourself on the quality and freshness of the finest food you will ever taste, served by our friendly & enthusiastic staff.

Bob Chinn was born in Duluth, Minnesota on March 2nd, 1923 - the 3rd of 7 children. His parents, Wai and Yung Shee Ong Chinn, were immigrants from the Chinese city of Toishan. After a short stint working at a California laundry, Bob's parents moved to the Midwest and entered the Chinese restaurant business.

As a young boy Bob moved to the north side of Chicago, just 2 blocks from Wrigley Field. His parents owned the popular Uptown restaurant called "New
Wilson Village". Bob had plenty of opportunities to learn about the restaurant business as a youngster helping out at the family business.

His favorite childhood memory is of the Depression Era when his father lost his businesses and got to spend all his time with us. Bob developed a fondness for baseball in general, and the Chicago Cubs in particular, around this same time. His love for the game has not diminished through the years. He unwinds by watching the games or going to the racetrack for horse racing. Bob is also a voracious reader and enjoys films and live theater.

Bob's first job was delivering Chinese food on foot at the age of 14 for another Oriental restaurant. He left high school and joined the army during World War II. He served for 3 years outside of Belfast, Northern Ireland with the 46th Field Artillery Battalion.

When a serious fire damaged his parents' restaurant, Bob bought the slightly damaged kitchen equipment and started up his own carryout business. The "Golden Pagoda" was in Evanston near the Coronet Theatre. Three years later Bob and Jean moved the business to Wilmette opening the "House of Chan". Bob left the "House of Chan" in Jean's and Brother-in-law, John's, capable hands in the 70's in order to open the "Kahala Terrace" with his brother, Wally. Although successful in this venture, Bob found he needed a new challenge.

In 1978 Bob Chinn and his daughter, Marilyn, began to travel around the country doing research for the Midwestern seafood restaurant Bob had envisioned for some time. After years of planning and development the father/daughter team negotiated the purchase of a shuttered building on Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling. The 175 seat “Bob Chinn’s Crab House” Restaurant opened two days before Christmas in 1982, and was an instant success. In the late 80’s, Bob Chinn’s opened additional seating on the porch and eventually became a 650 seat restaurant.

Currently the 5th top grossing independent restaurant in America, Bob Chinn’s has become a restaurant industry icon by providing the freshest food at great prices. This freshness, teamed with quick service and cook times (almost every item can be prepared in 15 minutes or less), means that Bob Chinn’s doesn’t have to sacrifice quality for quantity. Serving almost a million happy customers a year requires a delicately balanced dance between food purchasing, preparation, and service that Bob Chinn’s 370 employees perform day in and day out. And then, in July of 2012:

How Bob Chinn's Crab House Became The Highest-Grossing Restaurant In The U.S.

Forbes Business - by Dorothy Pomerantz, Forbes Staff 7/18/2012

Bob Chinn was 59 years old when he started the business that would come to define him. The determined entrepreneur had already headed 13 businesses, all catering to the restaurant industry, when along with his daughter Marilyn, he opened the doors to Bob Chinn’s Crab House in Wheeling, Ill., 30 miles outside of Chicago in 1982. His restaurant tops our list of the nation’s highest-grossing restaurants with an estimated $24 million in annual revenue. Numbers were provided by CHD Expert and do not include alcohol sales.

Chinn, whose parents immigrated from China, dropped out of high school to join the Army in World War II and has been working ever since. His first business was supplying patterned plates to Chinese restaurants. From there he moved on to selling equipment, remodeling and eventually helping his family members open restaurants.

In the 1970s, when he was running a Chinese restaurant with his wife’s brother, a customer came in and asked them to cater a party for 100 people. Chinn had never done catering, but he immediately agreed and put together a luau complete with grass mats and a roasted pig. The catering business took off, but three years later Chinn decided to move on leaving the business to his brother-in-law.

“When I went from one business to another I always gave it away or sold it,” says Chinn, “and within three to four years they were always out of business.”

Later, Chinn opened a Polynesian buffet with his brother and sister-in-law but became increasingly frustrated at having to negotiate with his family members over any new ideas.

“His place was so busy, but I wanted to do things my way, very creatively,” says Chinn. “His wife didn’t like that, and after three years I got tired of that talk.”

So he decided to branch out on his own with Bob Chinn’s Crab House. To ensure that things don’t go downhill at the restaurant Chinn, now 89, has decided he can’t retire (though he does spend six months out of each year in Hawaii).

“If I stop, the restaurant will collapse in a few years,” he says.

Chinn came up with the idea for Bob Chinn’s Crab House after traveling the world and tasting the best seafood from Alaska to Australia. At the time, most places were serving local seafood. Everywhere he went he talked to fishermen and suppliers, even going out on crab boats in Alaska, to persuade them to send their food to his outposts in Illinois. In Honolulu he has a company that scours the fish market every morning and overnights the best picks to Bob Chinn’s.

What started out as a 250-seat restaurant has grown to 700 seats serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bob Chinn’s is the Disneyland of seafood restaurants. Diners are shuffled through several wait stations but rarely loose their cool. Maybe it’s because they’re lubricated by Chinn’s famous Mai Tai cocktail that one reviewer said was “so strong it could strip paint off siding.” Or maybe it’s because the 300-strong staff keeps things moving. On an average day Chinn’s serves 2,500 meals. On a holiday it can serve as many as 4,500.

Or maybe it’s because of the food. Chinn has 3,000 pounds of fresh seafood flown in every day. Guests can check out the cargo bills while they wait for tables. The restaurant earns a 24 (out of 30) for food from Zagat and loyalists crow about the swordfish, of course the crabs and even the steak.

Chinn is still busy coming up with new ideas for the restaurant. He recently devised a $14.99 surf and turf meal that includes a Mai Tai, shrimp or baby scallops (“really good and cheap”) and the end cuts of USDA prime steaks that he persuaded his supplier to sell him for less than half the price.

He’s also helping two of his eight grandchildren start a business selling his Mai Tais in supermarkets using special packaging to keep the fruit juices fresh.

Despite the success of his restaurant, Chinn says has no desire to expand to more locations.

“I have the best concept, but I’m not money crazy,” he says. “I enjoy what I do.”


Wheeling Historical Society and Museum