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Single Mothers Built Ruth's Chris Steak House Into The Powerhouse It Is Today

Daily Meal logo: MainLogo Daily Meal 3/26/2023 Nico Danilovich
Ruth's Chris Steak on plate © Ruth's Chris Ruth's Chris Steak on plate

Ruth's Chris Steak House has a bit of a contradictory reputation. It's regarded by many as one of the best high-end steakhouse chains in America. However, at the same time, most people agree it's got one of America's worst chain restaurant names, one that does not roll off the tongue. (Even Ruth herself agreed.) There's an odd backstory behind that clumsy moniker, but the surprising history of this chain doesn't stop there.

Ruth's Hospitality Group currently counts 154 locations among its portfolio, including 23 international and a small handful of new sites opening each year. Indeed, as recently as 2022, this award-winning enterprise brought in more than $475 million in sales. Then, during 2023, the business began bolstering its digital sales and remodeling its brick-and-mortar locations, further refining its image -- as reported by FSR Magazine. Despite all this modern success, though, Ruth's Chris Steak House comes from relatively humble beginnings.

Ruth Was An Impressive Figure

sign advertising Ruth's Chris Steak © M4Productions/Shutterstock sign advertising Ruth's Chris Steak

Even before starting her eponymous business in 1965, Ruth Fertel was an accomplished woman. She was born during the 1920s to an insurance agent and kindergarten teacher in a small fishing village near the Mississippi River. Despite this humble background, Ruth graduated high school at 15, then university at 19 with a chemistry and physics degree. She quickly became a college professor, but the career she became most famous for did not begin until later.

Around 20 years old, Ruth married Rodney Fertel and left the workforce for over 10 years. Still, Ruth was not resting on her laurels; she impressively became the first woman in Louisiana licensed to train thoroughbred horses, and she also raised two sons. Then, when Ruth and Rodney separated in the late 1950s, Ruth became a single mother; Rodney didn't help put their boys through college. Not one to be defeated, Ruth briefly became a lab technician and then set her sights on something more culinary, despite lacking restaurateur experience.

Ruth Employed Hard Workers Like Herself

Ruth's Chris Steak House entrance © M4Productions/Shutterstock Ruth's Chris Steak House entrance

Eager to find a business opportunity, Ruth searched the newspapers and saw an ad for a food service establishment called "Chris Steak House." Taking a gamble on herself, Ruth mortgaged her house to pay for it, despite her lawyer's advice. Chris, the seller, claimed he would stick around to show Ruth the ropes and promptly vanished once the sale was finalized. He had a habit of selling his restaurant and repurchasing it cheap after the new owners failed.

So, Ruth taught herself, working as a busser, hostess, and waitress. She would go above and beyond when it came to customer service, taking special requests like grinding up steak for a customer with sensitive teeth. And who did Ruth hire to help her? Other single mothers, of course, who would be lovingly dubbed the "Broads on Broad Street." This move paid off, and Chris was never able to repurchase his business.

Soon enough, Ruth doubled her lab technician income, and Chris Steak House became a societal hotspot where local movers and shakers regularly dine. Unfortunately, a kitchen fire destroyed the original Chris Steak House, and the fine print in Chris' contract meant Ruth had to rename the new location. As a result, Ruth's Chris Steak House was born. Ruth eventually sold her business and, sadly, passed away in 2002, but her legacy as a hardworking single mother continues.

Read this next: 14 Red Flags You Should Look Out For At Steakhouses


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