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Talking with Bill Rancic

On entrepreneurship, relationships, being a father, restaurateur and more...

Bill Rancic was a successful entrepreneur before he was a television personality. Today he’s both. Bill won the premiere season of The Apprentice in 2004, three years after he sold his cigar company and transitioned into real estate. After getting ‘hired,’ he’d continue in real estate, marry entrepreneur and longtime E! News journalist Giuliana Rancic in 2006 and they’d create and star in their own show, Giuliana and Bill, which aired on E!.

Bill would later host We Mean Business on A&E, a makeover show for small businesses, and Food Network series Kitchen Casino – after he and Giuilana became partners in multiple restaurants.

I caught up with Bill - who moved to Austin with Giuliana and their now 10-year-old son Duke in 2019! - at Aba, and learned he and Giuliana are partners in the popular dining destination. We talked restaurants, relationships, entrepreneurship and more.

 

You’re from Chicago, what prompted the move to Austin?

We have some friends that live here so we spent time visiting and it felt like a good vibe. We were living between Chicago and LA because Giuliana was doing E! News in LA and I was in Chicago working. Our son was turning seven and it was time to settle down. The people are so nice here, there are cultural things to do, there’s great food and it’s centrally located. There are no egos, no one is trying to be something they’re not, which I love. It just fit, like a shoe.

What made you get into restaurants from real estate?

It was kind of Giuliana’s idea, so I started looking at some small locations, just until she got off this kick of owning an Italian restaurant. She’d said, ‘I’m from Naples, and the food…’ and then we were out to dinner one night with our friend Greg Olsen, who used to play for the Chicago Bears, and Giuliana says, “Bill and I are opening up an Italian restaurant.’

Everyone knows it's the worst investment you can make, from a business perspective, but Greg said he had friends thinking about opening an Italian restaurant we should meet. So, we met with R.J. Jerrod and Molly Melman, who are siblings who come from a restaurant family. We spent a year getting to know each other, making sure it was going to be a good marriage. We had some differences in what we envisioned, I was thinking a little bit smaller, they were thinking bigger - and then we opened a 14,000 square foot restaurant in the heart of downtown Chicago. It’s exceeded our expectations.

But, we went into it with the right idea. During that time we were filming Giuliana and Bill and we knew that food had to come first. We knew we could get people in the door once, but if the food wasn't incredible, if the service didn't exceed their expectations, people were only going to come once. So, we focused less on the celebrity sizzle and more on making sure people knew that we were legit, because there were a lot of people who questioned reality TV people opening a restaurant. Rightfully so, I don't blame them. But, I love proving people wrong. Fortunately, we have great partners who have been in the restaurant business since they could walk. Their father opened a restaurant 52 years ago, and it still business today. You’ve got to have the right people. You’ve got to have the right chemistry. When we opened you couldn't get a reservation for a year, we were full and that was the start of the RPM family.

How hands on you in the restaurant?

We’re very hands-on. We go to all the tastings, we work on the marketing side and the style side. I’m working on a renovation right now for the first RPM and I just put together a really cool deck on how I’m envisioning it. It’s been 12 years, so it’s time.

The first RPM was in Chicago early 2011 and you opened RPM in Vegas last year?

Yes, we love it, it’s so much fun. I’m an entrepreneur, I've been an entrepreneur my whole life and love business, I love people, I love doing things that I've never done, that's the beauty of life. You can do multiple careers. I went from owning a cigar company to being in real estate, to working on a television show that I never had a million years thought I would do to now being in the restaurant business. That's the gift of life, you don't have to be stuck in one career for your whole life.

Are there plans to bring RPM to Austin?

Yes, we looked at six different locations, so we're getting really close. We’re going to do RPM Italian first, probably within the next 15 months.

 

How did you get involved in Aba?
RPM stands for Rancic and Melman, I’m the R, we had a P who’s no longer with the company and Melman, the M, started Aba. They asked if Giuliana and I wanted to be partners in it because we were already partners in RPM and a few other restaurants they have. They’re like family.

On Aba…

You’re only as good as the people who are part of your family and I always say being an entrepreneur is like being the conductor of an orchestra. Where entrepreneurs get in trouble is when they try to play every instrument in the pit. You can’t. You can’t grow, you can’t scale that way, the best entrepreneurs get the best violinist, the best trumpet player and surround themselves with the best people. And the people at Aba, from the general manager Raul on down, is phenomenal, we couldn’t ask for better people.

 

It’s been nearly 20 years since you were on The Apprentice. How did that come about?

I had a cigar company in 1994, sold it in 2001 and started developing real estate in Chicago. Then my friend’s mother, who was a talent agent in Chicago for kids, said she got a fax that there was a show that was looking for entrepreneurs and she got me an appointment for Thursday at 3pm and I better go. She was a wonderful lady, but you didn't want to say no to her. I went to the appointment and a couple of weeks later I'm in New York City filming the first season of The Apprentice, it was crazy, it happened so fast.

They started out with 250,000 people who had applied, narrowed it down to 50 and picked 16. I was the 17th person chosen, but someone failed some kind of test so I got pulled up from the bullpen. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years.


What’s a lesson you took from it?

You’ve got to take a risk. This was like the birth of reality television. It was around 2003 and I just went with my gut. I thought it would be cool, it was a business show and it hadn’t been done. I went into it thinking whatever happens, it’s an experience in life. Obviously, I’m so glad I did it, it changed my life and it was fascinating, the whole process. I’m glad I took the risk, but that’s being an entrepreneur.


Did you ever think Trump could be president one day?

It’s America, and anyone can do anything they want. I think that’s what makes this country great. I look at my wife's family, when she came to America when she was nine, her father had a dream, and he built a beautiful business, a store called DePandi in Chevy Chase, Maryland that he still has today that makes custom suits and beautiful shirts. He started with nothing and put three kids through college and lives in a beautiful home.

Entrepreneurship runs strong in Giuliana’s family as well?
Yes, her father came here with a dream and they stayed in their uncle's basement until they got on their feet.


You light up when you talk about Giuliana, you wrote a book together on relationships, do you have advice on how to have a relationship with longevity?

We do a lot of cool things. We check in with each other, because life gets busy. That’s an opportunity to say things that might be bothering you, or it's an opportunity to say things that you love. Early on she said, ‘I really love that you brought me coffee in bed,’ so now I try to do that every day. My dad did that for my mom. He’d go to Dunkin’ Donuts and bring it back because my mom liked Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

What do you think is the biggest takeaway from your book on relationships?

You have to check your ego at the door in a marriage and you either win together or you lose together, especially when you have kids. I remember our first disagreement once we were married and she stopped talking to me and I went and saw a movie by myself for the first time. After the whole day of her not talking to me I said, ‘We better figure this out, because I'm not going anywhere.’ I could see her shoulders drop, and that was it. It set the stage, like I'm in this, I made a vow in front of God, I'm committed, and that was it.

Who cooks at home?
I cook, she cleans, that’s the deal.

 

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

I do a lot of salmon, because it’s obviously really healthy. I do a lot of pasta dishes, and like to try out different things that we have at the RPMs. I do a lot of steak and have been cooking a lot of bison lately, which I love. You name it, I’ll try anything. It may not be great, but I’ll try it.

Do you and Giulana still have a production company?
We do.


Anything coming up?

We’re working on a possible home renovation show.  A lot of people don’t know that we’ve renovated 17 homes in our marriage. We just finished one in Cabo. I was doing it way before I was married, but we’ve done a lot since we’ve been married.

How hands-on are you in the renovations?

Very. I love it. I find the homes and figure out what we’re going to change, the structural stuff, and then Giuliana comes in and does her magic with the furniture and the fabrics and things, so it’s a good combo.

What’s a lesson fatherhood has taught you?

Fatherhood unlocked a chamber in my heart that I never knew I had. I never felt that kind of love before. It also gave me a real appreciation for what a great father I had. I didn’t realize it until I became a father. My dad was awesome.


What’s exciting you right now?
I’m working on a project with the History Channel, an entrepreneurial-type show. And, I’m so proud of Giuliana and her entrepreneurial spirit. She’s got a clothing line that’s unbelievable on the Home Shopping Network, she’s the #2 brand on HSN and she just celebrated her 10th anniversary and she’s blossomed into this great entrepreneur, it’s really fun for me to see.

 

Quick Fire

 

Favorite restaurants in Austin (that aren’t Aba)? I had an incredible meal at June’s recently. We usually eat at a lot of kid-friendly places, so we like Hopdoddy, Home Slice.

Favorite Book? The Millionaire Next Door. My dad gave it to me when I was young and it taught me about money, understanding money and being smart with money. Even though you may not make a million dollars, if you’re smart, you can have a great life and a great retirement if you invest your money properly. It also teaches you not to keep up with the Joneses. It was a very enlightening book for me and I always tell younger people they should read it.

If you could get advice from anyone, who would you ask? God? Go right to the source. There are so many great minds out there who I never thought I’d get to meet and I’m a sponge, even at 50. I just want to learn more and more and more.

If you could have a meal with anyone who would it be? My dad, I miss him every day. He died in 1999, so he never got to see the height of my success, so I’d love to have a meal with him.

What advice would you give your 25-year-old self? Take more chances. I’m pretty conservative believe it or not, some things I think I could have done bigger. And, enjoy it more. I’ve learned to manage my worrying.

What is the last TV show you binged? White Lotus. I can’t wait for Season 3 in Thailand, it’s so good. My son is into F1 so I’m getting into that now. We started watching Formula 1: Drive to Survive on Netflix, which is great.

Favorite quote? ‘Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.’ I tell that to my son all

the time. And ‘Hard work pays off.’ Those are the two sayings we live by in my house.

‘Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.’ I tell that to my son all the time. And ‘Hard work pays off.’ Those are the two sayings we live by in my house.

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