Arnie Morton

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Arnie Morton
Born Arnold Morton
Died 2005 (age 83)
Ethnicity Jewish
Occupation businessman
Known for founder of Morton's Restaurant Group
Spouse(s) Spouse1 (divorced); Zorine Morton
  • seven
  • with Spouse1:
  • with Zorine:
    • Michael Morton
    • David Morton
    • Stephanie Morton
    • Amy Morton-Levin
    • Debra Morton
Parent(s) Mort and Isabel Morton

Arnold "Arnie" Morton (1922–2005) was a restaurateur who founded Morton's Restaurant Group/Morton's Steakhouse. He is the father of Peter Morton, founder and owner of Hard Rock Hotel and Casino and co-founder of Hard Rock Cafe; of Pam Morton, GM of the legendary Morton's restaurant on Robertson Blvd, Los Angeles; of Amy Morton, owner and operator of award winning restaurant Found in Evanston, Illinois;[1] of Michael Morton, head of the N9NE Group, which operates contemporary American steakhouses in Las Vegas, Chicago, and Dallas; of Debra Morton, documentary filmmaker and TV producer (PBS, A&E, Discovery, COMCAST), and owner of a contemporary European art gallery in Philadelphia; of Stephanie Morton, producer-owner of Stephanie Morton Productions which produces still photo shoots all over the globe; of David Morton, co-owner of the celebrated Chicago restaurants—DMK Burger Bar, Fish Bar, County Barbeque, Henry's Swing Club and Ada St. Arnie is the grandfather of Harry Morton, President and CEO of the Mexican restaurant chain Pink Taco, and 16 other grandchildren.

Personal life and background[edit]

Arnie Morton was born to a Jewish family[2] in Chicago, one of three sons of Mort and Isabel Morton,[3] and grew up in Hyde Park, Chicago. He graduated from Hyde Park High School and enlisted in the United States Army in World War II. He saw eight months of action and arrived in Normandy, France, just after D-day. After the war, he attended the University of Alabama where he played football for two (2) years.

Arnie Morton's father owned a restaurant on the South Side of Chicago. From the age of 15, Morton bused tables, worked in the kitchen, and performed a wide array of odd jobs at the restaurant. These laid the ground for his work in the 1960s as a founder of the famed Playboy Clubs and Resorts.[4]


Arnie Morton opened his first restaurant, the Walton Walk, between Rush Street and Michigan Avenue in the 1950s. This paved the way for a partnership with Victor Lownes and Hugh Hefner, the founder and editor-in-chief of Playboy Magazine.

Morton was the right-hand man of Hugh Hefner when he launched the Playboy Empire on February 29, 1960.[5] He was largely involved in the opening of the first Playboy Club with Hefner and Lownes in 1960.

He served as Executive Vice President of Playboy Enterprises, where he developed the worldwide chain of Playboy Clubs.[6]

Over the course of 20 years, Morton created his flagship namesake restaurant, Arnie's, in Chicago's Gold Coast; Zorine's; and Morton's of Chicago Steakhouses. In 1978, Morton's of Chicago opened in the basement of a Near North Side high-rise in Chicago adjacent to the existing Arnie's restaurant. The menu consisted simply of giant potatoes and large steaks. It was slow at the beginning, but gained a boost when Frank Sinatra arrived at the restaurant and became a regular. This original Morton's of Chicago became the stepping stone for 65 other Morton's locations in the United States, Hongkong, Singapore, and Canada. During the 70s and 80s, his other ventures included Arnie's Restaurant, Arnie's Cafe, Maple Street Pier, Arnie's First Street Pier, Arnie's North, Morton's Marketplace, the Institute and an exclusive Club, Zorine's (discothèque).[citation needed]

Morton met Klaus Fritsch while working alongside Hugh Hefner. Then, Fritsch was food and beverage director of the Playboy Clubs.[7] Morton left Playboy in the early 1970s as did Fritsch to begin a 20-year run of working together.

Morton once teamed with chef Jean Banchet to open an elegant French seafood restaurant, Zorine's Club La Mer.[6] Morton sold his Morton's Steakhouses in 1987.


Morton was married for a short while out of World War II and had twins: Peter Morton and Pam Morton. Later he met his surviving wife Zorine at a Playboy party in 1960, and they married in 1961. They had five children: sons Michael and David; and daughters Stephanie Morton, Amy Morton-Levin and Debra Morton-Berger.[8] He has a brother, Robert.[9]


Morton died on May 28, 2005, aged 83 at a care home in Deerfield, Illinois. He had Alzheimer's Disease and cancer. In recognition of his significant contributions, a resolution was presented to his family from the House of Representatives of the 94th General Assembly of the State of Illinois "so that his memory may be honored and ever cherished".[10]


Morton is credited as the brains behind the "Taste of Chicago", one of the city's best-loved summer festivals. He got the idea when he went to a similar event in New York in the late 1970s. Thinking that Chicago could do much better, he lined up restaurants to participate and persuaded then Mayor Jane Byrne to block off Michigan Avenue for the first Taste of Chicago on July 4, 1980, planting the seed for this food festival. Of the 100,000 people the organizers expected, more than 250,000 showed up, with food and soda sales grossing $300,000. Since then, the festival has evolved and has been done every year during the Fourth of July celebrations.[11]


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