Why would a successful restaurant that's got great traction in the community change its name? It seems almost beyond reason. But then

Richie B.'s

(2272 NW Kearney St., 299-1200), the great little sandwich and pizza shop in Northwest, has never been a place of reason. Passion, yes. Reason, uh-uh. So while it's somewhat jarring that Richie B.'s changed its name, it's really not surprising.

From this day forth, Richie B.'s isn't Richie B.'s--it's Tribute's. The sign says so, and so does Richie. Miss D. talked to the Italian Stallion and asked him why he would do something so counter to what those business books always seem to be shouting: BRAND, BRAND, BRAND. Richie seems nonplussed by this bean-counter voodoo.

"I can only talk to so many people," says Richie. When the place had his name in the name, visitors to the homey little haunt would come asking for him; they felt cheated if they couldn't have a face-to-face encounter with the man whose pumped-up photos graced the walls and whose oversized personality dominated the menu and every single square inch of the joint. Emily Dickinson once wrote: "Fame is a bee/It has a song--/It has a sting--/Ah, too, it has a wing." So, Richie, being human, has somewhat sickened of what he calls "doing the Richie thing" and hoped it would fly away.

There were, of course, other factors. First off, Richie doesn't own the joint, due to some financial difficulties from his previous venture, New York Richie's. Judy Farinha is the owner, while Richie lends his sweat and recipes and persona. Richie says he wanted to get her more involved instead of the whole thing being about him. Also, according to Richie, there's talk of expanding the restaurant to other locations and, as he says, "I can't be cloned."

The two of them came up with the concept of Tribute's. When Miss Dish asked who is being honored, Richie replied "Everyone." Now, instead of wall-to-wall shots of Richie from his days playing Conan the Barbarian at Universal Studios, there's what called a Wall of Honor featuring photos of family members and friends. Now, Richie says, customers are starting to bring their own black-and-white photos of folks they'd like to put on the wall. "This makes them feel like they're a part of the place," says Richie. The menu remains the same: huge subs and cheesesteaks and foldable slices. Soon chicken steak sandwiches (oxymoronic and delish) and baked ziti will edge into the selections.

So far business hasn't been affected by the name change, says Richie. "If this ends up being a bad idea, I still have the Richie B.'s sign that we can put up."