Written by By Sarah Woodward, CNN
Born in Springfield, Illinois, on January 29, 1946, Jimmy Elidrissi had the purview of designing, molding and decorating some of the most iconic restaurants in the US.
At his peak, he led a team of eight to 25 people across three different national restaurant chains — Marinade, the Waldorf Bellhop and the All American Restaurant Group (AFIRG).
“They’re legendary in their fields, so to create a worldwide image with something that small — that’s a monumental achievement,” said Elidrissi’s wife, Lisa, who remembered her husband as “a high priest of decor and design.”
Growing up as a “scattered, awkward little boy” in the state capital, Elidrissi dreamed of becoming a doctor or a lawyer, but found his true calling — decorating restaurants — while studying business at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
In the mid-1970s, he did his thesis in decorating the theater at the Hotel Copley Plaza in Boston. He then applied for a job at a secret-scooping service in Boston’s theater district, “perching high in a black silhouette across a counter to scoop off stage scenery,” recalled his widow.
Later, while visiting New York, he ran into another young Illinoisan’s father, whose restaurant was getting ready to move from Chicago to Manhattan. While chatting with the restaurateur’s father, Elidrissi was struck by the owner’s admission: “He’ll never get the same scale of space in the Midwest that he does here,” said Elidrissi. “That kind of planted the seed in my mind.”
In 1978, at 25, he left Southern Illinois University to head to New York to join the All American Restaurant Group, and was hired immediately. By 1984, he had relocated to Chicago, where he built Marinade to national acclaim.
Then in the early 1990s, while visiting the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, he was introduced to the idea of buying Waldorf Bellhops from its parent company. They had struggled for years to stay afloat because of the Waldorf’s reputation for blighted and rundown hotels, and the bellhops were thought to represent a potential brand overhang.
The famous sandwich shop — with their curly tufts of white cap-tips on black twill trousers — quickly became a cultural icon, said Elidrissi. “[The Waldorf Bellhop] represents [a] way of life. They really encouraged a creative, multicultural approach to decorating,” he said.
At San Francisco’s Nourse Ballroom in March 1997, President Bill Clinton selected the Waldorf-Astoria to be his official residence during his first term as president. This of course followed a successful Bellhop for Hill Week event during the president’s second term.
By 1993, Waldorf Bellhops had become a full-fledged empire, with six restaurants, as well as hotels and restaurants in Manhattan, Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.
By 1998, Elidrissi and his wife, now also the chain’s owner, had moved to California to help expand the Waldorf Bellhop brand. In October of that year, Mr. Bellhop — as he was known — was diagnosed with throat cancer. He died on May 14, 2000.
“It’s just crazy when you think about it. Just over 30 years of perpetuating himself and his style of aesthetic, so to speak,” said Lisa Elidrissi.
Signed with his first name in red, with a white resume and no last name, the only visible hallmark of his style was the khaki-colored trousers and black and white striped shirts.
Jimmy Elidrissi also graduated from the Senior Designer’s program at the Institute of Design at the University of Southern California.