I remember the first time Mrs. Tiedemann and I decided to try Morton’s Steakhouse in Chicago. It must have been 20 years ago or more. We were relatively new to the Chicago restaurant scene back then and had never been to Morton’s.
We caught a cab at our hotel and proudly announced to the cab driver that we wanted to go to Morton’s at 1050 North State Street. As luck would have it, our driver didn’t know where Morton’s was on State. Apparently he had never dropped anyone off there before. When we got to 1050 State Street the building was under renovation and the scaffolding set up around it was blocking most of the restaurant’s signage. After doing a couple of U-turns, stops and starts, we had the cabbie drop us off in front so we could go have a look on our own. We were expecting a first floor restaurant, with signage and windows where we could see people inside sitting at tables, etc. Frankly, it never dawned on us the place wouldn’t be on the first floor. After a little exploring, we found a Morton’s sign and discovered they were located in the basement of the building, not on the first floor as we expected. The entrance is off a corner lobby, which isn’t visible from State Street because it is behind another building. In the end, we made our reservation time and got our table for the evening; we had a great steak and enjoyed our first dinner ever at Morton’s Steakhouse.
The Morton’s on State is known as the “Original Morton’s” as it was the very first Morton’s restaurant. It was started in 1978 by co-founders Arnie Morton and Klaus Fritsch. From its Chicago founding, the Morton’s Group of Restaurants has grown to 76 restaurants worldwide. There are 69 in the U.S. and an additional seven in China, Singapore, Mexico and Canada.
Mrs. Tiedemann and I have been back to Morton’s on State (I say Morton’s on State because there is another Morton’s in Chicago at 65 East Wacker Place, just west of Michigan Avenue) a number of times since then. We always enjoy having dinner at the Original Morton’s.
Last Wednesday evening as I was pulling up to the building in my Uber-provided car (if you aren’t familiar with or already use Uber, you really need to check them out at Uber.com…it is a wonderful service) we pulled under some scaffolding and I thought of our adventure with Morton’s so many years before.
I was headed to Morton’s for a wine tasting I had been invited to by the restaurant’s management. Raki Mehra is the General Manager and Curt Lotspeich is the Assistant Manager. Both are good guys who are committed to great customer service. Every six months Morton’s has a wine tasting for its wine locker patrons. The event is generally held in April and September. Wine locker programs are popular among many local and national restaurant chains. Some Chicago restaurants that offer lockers are Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, Capital Grille and Bin 36, to name a few. I am sure you have all seen these lockers at one time or another. They are usually located in a very prominent place such as the restaurant’s lobby where everyone can see them (that’s part of the point of the program). When you rent or secure a wine locker, your name is inscribed on a small plaque, usually a gold one, and mounted on the front of the locker which is, of course, for all to see. At Morton’s on State and Ruth’s Chris here in our market each have the lockers located in the lobby right by the hostess station. Morton’s on State only has 48 lockers.
While at the wine tasting, I was fortunate to meet Nicole Raftery, the Regional Director of Operations for Morton’s Steakhouses. When I contacted Nicole to get some additional information on the wine locker program she quickly put me in contact with Tylor Field III, Divisional VP of Wine and Spirits for Morton’s Steakhouses, Mastro’s and Oceanaire Seafood Room. Mr. Field has been with Morton’s since 1990 and heavily involved in the locker program. I should mention that Morton’s is part of Landry’s, Inc. a worldwide group of dining and entertainment establishments with more than 450 properties. There are more than 40 unique brands in the Landry’s group of businesses. Some of the well-known brands in the Midwest are Morton’s, Landry’s Seafood, Mastro’s Restaurants, and McCormick and Schmick’s to name just a few.
Tylor Field was kind enough to take time from a very busy schedule and share the following facts with me on Morton’s Wine Locker Program:
- All Morton’s Restaurants have wine locker programs except in Biloxi, Mississippi, where state laws do not allow such a program.
- All wine lockers are free to restaurant patrons who are regular diners and supporters of Morton’s. Patrons do need to stay active with the restaurant and resupply their lockers on a modest basis.
- Wine locker holders are initially invited by the local restaurant management to have a locker.
- Locker holders are allowed to bring bottles from their own personal cellars to stock their lockers if allowed under state laws. When those bottles are opened the holder is charged corkage.
- Morton’s has had a wine locker program since the early 1980’s and was designed to create a stronger, long-term relationship with customers.
Mr. Field further stated that locker turnover is approximately 10-15% annually.
If you are regular patron of Morton’s and are a wine enthusiast I suggest you speak to restaurant management about their wine locker program. Normally there is a waiting list for lockers.
Now back to the wine tasting at Morton’s. This was the first time I have participated in such an event. I was honored to be included.
I was asked to arrive around 5:30 p.m. to get set up and ready for the tasting which started at 6 p.m. There were six other distributors besides myself and most of them had participated in this event or similar ones in the past. They were all very friendly and knowledgeable on wines. It was apparent that I was the rookie of the evening.
Since Morton’s is a steakhouse, we had all been asked to only bring red wines. I decided to show my 2010 and 2011 Glenwood Cellars Cabernet, 2013 Glenwood Cellars Pinot Noir and our 2009 and 2010 Tiedemann Signature Series Red Wine.
The other six distributors were showing some real great wines and the competition was tough. Wines that evening included: Groth Reserve Cabernet, Pahlmeyer Merlot, Raymond Generations Cabernet, Caymus Cabernet, Duckhorn Merlot and Ramey Cabernet…all of them great wines. Wines I would certainly want in my wine locker (if I had one).
The evening started out slow and remained that way throughout the rest of the evening. Assistant Manager Curt Lotspeich had anticipated 25 to 30 patrons in attendance. He informed us later that we were competing with Smith and Wollensky’s Wine Week. Twice a year, they invite guests to sample 10 wines for $10 with the purchase of a lunch entrée. I would assume that some of Morton’s patrons might have had enough wine for the day and didn’t attend Morton’s evening event (or couldn’t). However, Curt planned to continue to promote everyone’s wines throughout the weekend. We all left him ample samples of our wines. When I checked with Curt on Friday, he had only sold four bottles of our Glenwood Cellars Pinot Noir. Naturally, I wish I had sold a lot more wine. When I spoke with Nicole last Monday she stated that overall they were pleased with wine sales from the event considering the small turnout. She felt sales would continue throughout the balance of the month. I had a great time, met a lot of good folks and enjoyed a good meal at Morton’s after the event.
If you haven’t been to a Morton’s Steakhouse, I highly recommend you do so the next time you are in a market where one is located and you are hungry for a steak. I certainly recommend the original Morton’s on State. The management and staff are helpful, the service is good and the food is great. It is a good idea for you call ahead for a reservation, as they are almost always busy. The number for the State Street restaurant in Chicago is 312-266-4820 or you can also go to the Morton’s corporate website at www.mortons.com or use Open Table at www.opentable.com to make a reservation at any Morton’s worldwide.
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Until next week,