By Stephen Ostrowski | October 13, 2016 | People
We caught up with beloved Chicago businessman and personality Bill Rancic in advance of Mercy Home for Boys & Girls' Ringside for Mercy’s Sake event to hear about his work with the organization, his first novel, and what’s next for the RPM brand.
Bill Rancic at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls’ Ringside for Mercy’s Sake.
Throwing haymakers is generally behavior non-grata in any formal setting (much less a black-tie affair), but it’s de rigeur at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls’ boxing fundraiser, Ringside for Mercy’s Sake, which sees local movers-and-shakers spar for charity.
Chicago native and longtime Mercy Home supporter Bill Rancic will reprise his role as live auctioneer at the forthcoming fête. Ahead of Saturday’s soiree, the perennially-busy multihyphenate spoke with Michigan Avenue about the organization’s ethos, his upcoming debut novel, First Light, the sweetness of Chicago summers, and possible restaurant expansions in the new year.
What’s so special about the organization and its mission that made you want to be a part of Ringside for Mercy’s Sake again?
BILL RANCIC: Well, I’ve been a part of Mercy Home for at least 15 years, maybe longer. [I] started out volunteering as a tutor one night a week, and found out how much of an impact they have on the youth of Chicago, because for many of these kids it’s their last stop, and they come from homes [where] there are problems and they need help. Not only are they getting the proper housing [at Mercy], but they’re getting all the support that goes along with it: The counseling services, the tutoring, you name it; they’re equipping these kids with the tools to have a long, successful life, and I think that’s what it’s about.
What about the event itself makes it so special or memorable to you?
BR: These aren’t professional athletes by any means, and they’re going at it. It’s definitely very relatable; it’s very fun and people are there for the right reasons. They’re there to make sure we can raise as much money as possible for these kids, and that’s the future of Chicago…. [You see] story after story after story about how the young men and women [from Mercy Home] go on to do these pretty impressive things with their lives; that in itself is spectacular. I love seeing the success stories come out of Mercy Home.
Is there any particular moment that has really stood out to you in the time that you’ve worked with the organization?
BR: We took a handful of young men and we went and did a mission trip in Portland, and as we’re landing in Maine, one of the young men turned to me and he said, “Billy, do they speak English here?” And I thought, man, this young guy—he had been new to the home—he never left a four- or five-block radius of where he lived on the Southside. The fact that, here we were in Portland, Maine, and this young guy, his whole life and he had never been able to leave that five-block radius of the Southside. It hit me right in the stomach. I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool. He’s going to go out and have lobster. He’s going to see the ocean.’
What prompted you to write a novel, and specifically, a survival tale?
BR: I travel a lot for business and certainly spend a lot of time on the airplane, and the idea kind of came to me on one of my business trips, and it just grew from there. So far the book’s getting good reviews; a handful of people have already read it, and they’ve put out pretty good reviews, so I’m optimistic that people are going to like it.
Bill Rancic and Giuliana Rancic attend the grand opening of RPM Italian in Chicago in 2012.
Proximity and location aside, what have you learned about expanding your restaurant brand into other cities, and how you manage that process from afar while still staying true to the namesake?
BR: Well, it’s all about the people, and that’s with any business. I’ll be honest with you: You have to have the right people around you. You have to learn how to conduct and make sure that you bring the right people in who are going to be able to help you execute your vision, and make sure that the RPM in D.C. is just as consistent [and] amazing and the experience is as off the charts as it is in Chicago, and that’s what we’ve done. But we can’t do it alone; we’re only as good as the people around us.
Can you speak to any other potential expansion plans as you look into 2017?
BR: I think we’re going to have something else, probably another concept in Chicago, [in] late ‘17, and then a few other areas where we’re going to take the RPM Italian brand across the country. Chicago is our home and I think that’s the place where we still want to continue to do more business and put more restaurants. We’ll be making those announcements probably the second quarter of ‘17.
Lastly, what was your favorite memory from this summer?
BR: I loved going to the farmer’s market with Duke, my son, and [my wife], Giuliana Rancic. That was our Sunday morning: Go and hit the farmer’s market, then go for a run down the lakefront…. Summer in Chicago, you get two days in one, because there’s so much to do. You can pack it all in: Get out and have a wonderful day, and then you can have a great time at night, go into fantastic restaurants, pubs, and bars. So, summertime, you really get a year’s worth of fun if you do it right in Chicago.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SCOTT OLSON (MERCY); BARRY BRECHEISEN/WIREIMAGE (RPM ITALIAN OPENING)