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8 Questions for Richard Levy, entrepreneur, native South African, and head tomato of Salad Spinners

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07/22/2008

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Rich Levy, the head tomato

Even if you don’t personally know Richard Levy, you probably do know his salads. The founding president and CEO of Salad Spinners Corp—or head tomato as he’s most often referred to—invented the business Salad Spinners, a creative salad and sandwich lunch option, seven years ago. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised in Highland Park, Levy started his career in the food-service industry nearly a decade ago as an analyst in the meat processing and baked goods manufacturing industry in South Africa. Soon after, he headed back to Chicago, where he immersed himself in learning the inner-workings of the restaurant biz. Today, Salad Spinners has four downtown Chicago locations and a catering business. Levy’s business donates money to local (preferably grassroots) philanthropies of his customers’ choosing. In addition to his entrepreneurial prowess, he’s active in Chicago’s young Jewish community and, through his business, does his best to give back to the community. In fact, during Passover, in the spirit of the holiday, Salad Spinners serves up matzoh with each of his salads to accommodate his fellow Jewish patrons.

So whether you’re a fledgling entrepreneur, a U2, Sting, and Springsteen junkie, or you just really like a “big salad,” like Elaine from “Seinfeld,” Richard Levy is a Jew you should know!

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to own a pet store and/or be a game ranger in Africa where I grew up. It’s like having a larger pet store.

2. What do you love about what you do today?
The independence. Being able to make my guests happy. Being able to create whatever I want and not have to answer to anyone.

3. What are you reading?  
Small Giants by Bo Burlingham.

4. What’s your favorite place to eat in Chicago? 
China Grill or anything by Lettuce Entertain You.

5. If money and logistical reality played no part, what would you invent?
Engines that can run on combustible sewage or garbage.

6. Would you rather have the ability of fly or the ability to be invisible?
Do I really get to choose? OK—fly—because…well let’s just say that I can’t stand walking.

7. If I scrolled through your iPod, what guilty pleasure song would I find?
Lots of Barry Manilow, and Neil Diamond…kidding…seriously don’t print that…I am really into old Eddie Grant, Johnny Clegg, and The Replacements. Also, I function well on a steady diet of U2, Sting, and Springsteen.

8. What’s your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago—in other words, how do you Jew?
I hit up the bris and bar/bat mitzvah circuit—lots of lox and bagels for free! Kidding. I think Federation is outstanding in the way they get young Jews to connect from all over Chicagoland. Our JUF Mission to Israel—two buses full—was proof of that.

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