The Untold Truth Of Ruth's Chris Steak House

Founded in New Orleans back in 1965, Ruth's Chris Steak House expanded from a single Big Easy eatery to a worldwide franchise with more than 150 restaurants spanning the globe. The story of the restaurant's growth is an extraordinary one, courtesy of the talent and vision of Ruth Fertel. A single mother with a big dream, Fertel — who passed away in 2002 — was a trailblazing female entrepreneur who built an empire based on sizzling steaks and Southern hospitality. 

When Ruth's Chris had been in the news, it was typically to announce the opening of a new restaurant or some type of menu promotion. Yet the franchise received unwanted headlines and a tsunami of backlash when Ruth's Chris became engulfed in controversy during the COVID-19 pandemic due to some revelations of financial shenanigans that left many outraged.

Beyond the backlash, the history of Ruth's Chris Steak House is as colorful and eccentric as the city in which it was born, yet there's still much that even repeat customers may not know about the venerable restaurant franchise. Read on to discover the untold truth of Ruth's Chris Steak House.

Ruth's Chris was born in New Orleans

According to her New York Times obituary, Ruth Fertel was a divorced single mother working as a lab technician at Tulane School of Medicine in New Orleans when she became interested in buying a local restaurant specializing in steaks. Despite having no restaurant experience, in 1965 she took out a $22,000 mortgage on her house in order to buy Chris Steak House. 

According to the Times, Fertel was so inexperienced that when she met with the bank she only asked for the $18,000 to purchase the restaurant; the bank, however, made sure that she borrowed a few thousand extra to pay for food and overhead costs. Despite her lack of restaurant savvy, her new venture became an immediate success thanks to Fertel's determination.

"We went out of our way to please customers. We spoiled them," Fertel said in an interview, offering an example of the kind of service customers could expect. "One of our regular Sunday customers was operated on for his teeth and couldn't bite into a steak," she said. "So I chopped his steak in the grinder,
formed it into the same shape as before, and served it to him. He was thrilled."

The truth behind the steakhouse's weird name

When Ruth Fertel's Chris Steak House burned down in 1976, she quickly scrambled to open in a new, larger location. That presented a problem, in that her original purchase agreement with previous owner Chris Matulich specified that she could only use the name of the restaurant — which had been been unchanged since 1927 — at the original location.

As Fertel's son, Randy Fertel, wrote in his memoir, she simply tacked her name onto the front of the original moniker, resulting in the unwieldy Ruth's Chris Steak House. The reason, he wrote, was because "she had grown to hate being called Chris, or, worse, being taken for Chris's wife." However, he shared, the name's oddness made it both memorable and a bit of a tongue-twister, with a restaurant critic once likening the title to a sobriety test — anyone who could still say it correctly was not yet inebriated.

Even though it was Ruth Fertel who came up with the name, she admitted to Fortune in 1998 that she wasn't particularly fond of it. "I've always hated the name," she insisted. "But we've always managed to work around it." 

How a single mother built the Ruth's Chris empire — one steak at a time

According to an archived bio of Ruth Fertel, on her first day as owner of what would become Ruth's Chris Steak House, Fertel sold 35 steaks, charging about $5 for each one. Within six months, she had raked in more than twice her annual Tulane salary. As the restaurant's reputation grew, so did its clientele. 

When one of the eatery's most loyal customers moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, he'd return to the city just to get a steak at his favorite restaurant. In 1977, he talked Fertel into opening a Ruth's Chris franchise in his neck of the woods so he'd be able to enjoy her steaks without having to make the drive. 

"When I started franchising, that really got the name out," said Fertel, "and the more the name became known, the busier we became in all our restaurants. Our name recognition spread. In fact, all our franchisees were people who had eaten at one time or another in one of our restaurants. We never looked for franchisees. They came to us." As of April 2020, more than 150 Ruth's Chris Steak House franchises were scattered around the world.

The original Ruth's Chris had an all-female staff

When staffing her restaurant, Ruth Fertel bucked tradition and hired other single mothers as her wait staff. According to the Ruth's Chris Steak House website, Fertel and her team were nicknamed the "Broads on Broad Street," referring to the restaurant's original location. 

The reason, explained an archived bio of Fertel, was because she knew firsthand that raising a child solo required both reliability and hard work. So radical was Fertel's hiring practice, there was a time when Ruth's Chris Steak House was the Big Easy's sole upscale eatery to have female servers. 

Long after Fertel's passing in 2002, her restaurants continued to celebrate mothers. For example, in 2017 Ruth's Chris issued a press release announcing a special Mother's Day menu and a gift for moms. "Our founder, Ruth Fertel, was a single mother and famously employed an all-female wait staff of single mothers at our first location in New Orleans," said company CEO Michael O'Donnell. "We are proud to raise a glass to her and all mothers, past and present, on this special occasion and provide a small token of our appreciation for their hard work and devotion."

The surprising secret behind Ruth's Chris' signature sizzle

Whenever a diner is served a steak at Ruth's Chris Steak House, it arrives at the table still sizzling. This has become the restaurant's signature and dates back to the original Chris Steak House practice of placing the plated steak under the broiler for a minute or so and then adding a pat of butter and some parsley, with the butter creating the signature sizzle. 

According to former marketing professional Lana Duke — who went on to hold her own franchises in her hometown of Toronto — it was no mean feat to ensure the steaks were still sizzling and popping when they made it to the table. Fertel came up with a solution: a custom-made infrared broiler that cooked the steaks at an enormously high temperature. 

"With her chemistry and physics degrees she had this broiler made that cooked steaks at 1800 degrees," said Duke in an interview with Dine. "The sizzle in the plate kept it hot to the very last bite. It was difficult to get every Ruth's Chris in the world to do that. 'If it doesn't sizzle, send it back.' That helped build the brand."

The origin of Ruth's Chris' famed creamed spinach

Along with those butter-topped sizzling steaks, another signature dish at Ruth's Chris Steak House is its creamed spinach. Ruth's Chris founder Ruth Fertel never revealed where she obtained the recipe; however, her son Randy Fertel told New Orleans music magazine Off Beat that the dish was the invention of his great-uncle.  

"The story of the spinach, it's an old family recipe," said Randy Fertel, who said he was speaking with one of his cousins when the conversation shifted to how much customers at Ruth's Chris loved the creamed spinach. His cousin told him, "You know that's Uncle Martin's creamed spinach." 

While he was of the opinion that telling diners the recipe was a treasured family recipe, passed down for generations, would have been "good marketing" for the restaurants, he chalked up Ruth Fertel's secretiveness about the spinach to her pride. "I think it was all about my mother's ego," he explained. "She wasn't going to share the fact that it wasn't her recipe."

The reason Ruth's Chris switched from dry-aged to wet-aged steaks

In his memoir, "The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Family Memoir," Randy Fertel wrote that his mother, Ruth Fertel, switched from dry-aged steaks to wet-aged cuts of meat in order to maintain more consistency. As he explained, dry-aging presents some disadvantages, including the additional cost of cold storage along with a certain degree of loss, which results in the meat becoming more expensive in the long run.

Another problem Ruth's Chris Steak House encountered with dry-aged beef was spoilage. "Mom weekly lost a few steaks to such taint when customers turned up their noses," he wrote. While she would quickly get the customer a replacement steak, she also believed the whole experience left the restaurant "tainted" for those customers. She decided to switch to wet-aged steaks, which aged after being vacuum-packed in plastic and wouldn't go bad.

However, as Fox News pointed out, wet-aged beef may deliver more consistency, but "it's a lot less robustly flavored than its more upscale counterpart, dry-aged meat," while admitting it's "very difficult to control perfect aging conditions."

How Hurricane Katrina caused the corporate headquarters to change cities

In 2005, New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and Ruth's Chris Steak House was one of many companies based in the city to be affected. According to, the flagship Ruth's Chris Steak House on Broad Street was badly damaged in the flood, and never reopened. As The New York Times reported, the restaurant chain's corporate offices, located in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, were likewise flooded. This led to a big change at the corporate level.

The company's executives got together for a meeting to figure out the next move, ultimately determining the situation in New Orleans post-Katrina was simply too tenuous. As a result, the decision was made to move the company's corporate headquarters from New Orleans to Orlando, Florida. "It was probably one of the toughest decisions that I ever had to make: to tell my people that we are not going back," said Craig S. Miller, chief executive of Ruth's Chris.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the company initially purchased an office building, but wound up selling the property for less than it paid when the company encountered a cash crunch and needed to pay debt.

Ruth's Chris was hit with a class-action discrimination lawsuits

In 2011, Reuters reported that some current and former female staff members of Ruth's Chris Steak House launched a class-action lawsuit against the company, alleging gender discrimination. This was particularly ironic for a restaurant that was once renowned for hiring only women for its wait staff.

While the lawsuit originally came from three women, a U.S. District judge ruled that the original suit could be amended to a class-action suit on behalf of all female Ruth's Chris employees. According to Reuters, the lawsuit claimed that "the work environment at RCSH is one that is demeaning to women [and] reflects a culture of male domination and female subjugation," among other allegations.

Ruth's Chris SVP and chief branding officer Cheryl Henry responded to the suit in a statement to Forbes. "In 1965, Ruth Fertel founded this company as a single mother. She created a legendary culture of hospitality and service, and we are proud to continue to nurture and foster our inclusive environment. Ruth's Chris Steak House does not tolerate discrimination of any kind in our family of restaurants," said Henry, promising the company would "vigorously defend our position.

The surprising reasons why some Ruth's Chris customers could get a free steak

One of the most beloved aspects of Ruth's Chris Steak House for its customers is the chain's frequent promotional offerings, such as giving moms a $25 credit on Mother's Day. Another promotion was offered at a Ruth's Chris Steak House location in Ann Arbor, Michigan, promising a free steak to anyone named Chris. According to Detroit's WXYZ News, the restaurant launched the "summertime promotion" as a "fun and unique way for us to pay it forward" to its customers. Anyone who's named Chris (or a variation such as Christopher or Christina) would receive a free eight-ounce petite filet.

Meanwhile, another promotion offered a special gift to the class of 2019. As Charlotte's Spectrum News reported, all nine Ruth's Chris locations in North Carolina honored graduates by offering them a complimentary three-course dinner from the restaurants' Seasonal Classics Menu. The expectation was that the graduate would be dining with his or her family, as the offer was contingent on the purchase of an additional four adult entrées.

Ruth's Chris earned $468 million in 2019 but received $20 million in small business relief

When Congress passed a $2-trillion stimulus package to address the economic impact of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, included was the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a $349-billion fund administrated by the Small Business Administration intended to provide low-interest loans for small businesses with less than 500 employees. 

Two weeks after its April 3 launch, however, the PPP had completely run out of money. It soon became apparent that some not-so-small businesses exploited a loophole, with large corporations able to grab loans if those companies had less than 500 employees in one of its locations. As a result, Ruth's Hospitality Group, corporate parent of Ruth's Chris Steak House, received two $10-million loans for two of its properties. 

Headlines were made and outrage erupted that loans meant to rescue mom-and-pop restaurants instead went to, as GQ reported, a chain with "more than 150 locations and more than 5,700 employees," that "made $42 million in profit on $468 million in revenue last year, which the company partly spent on more than $5 million in stock buybacks," in addition to having $86 million in cash on reserve. It didn't help that Ruth's Chris had laid off a "significant number of field and home office team members."

A petition called for Ruth's Chris to return its stimulus loan

While Ruth's Hospitality Group received $20 million in PPP loans, numerous independently owned restaurants throughout the U.S. were unable to get a dime when the fund ran out. Fast-food burger chain Shake Shack, which had likewise received a $10-million PPE loan, responded to public scorn by returning the money. Shortly after, a petition was launched demanding that the corporate owners of Ruth's Chris Steak House do the same. 

As the petition stated, "Many small businesses are now being told there is no money left for them, and they cannot pay their employees, and may have to close forever. This is a travesty, and a disgusting display of corporate greed during a time of disaster." As a result, the petition asked others to join in telling "Ruth's Chris Steak House 'Return the money now! You will be shamed forever if you do not. People will not forget.' Demand that Ruth's Chris Steak House return the money that it, in effect, stole from actual small businesses across this great country." Shortly after its launch, the petition had received more than a quarter-million signatures.

On April 23, 2020, Ruth's Chris Steak House said it would return the $20 million in loans. 

A Ruth's Chris restaurant fed employees after laying them off

While the parent company that owns Ruth's Chris Steak House was hit with backlash after receiving $20 million in PPP small-business loans, one individual restaurant did what it could to help out employees who were laid off when restaurants were shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As WNDU News of South Bend, Indiana reported, the Ruth's Chris franchise location in nearby Granger offered free meals to its laid-off staffers and their families, providing a free meal once a day on weekdays via curbside delivery. "I always knew that I did work for great people and a great establishment, but unfortunately when hard times happen, they happen, and here we are and they are standing right by my side letting me know that everything is going to be okay," said laid-off employee Ashley Kyles. 

"When this whole tragedy hit, the first thing we thought is, 'What is going to happen to our 75 employees?'" said Tim Ruys, operating partner of the Granger Ruth's Chris location. "Knowing they are not going to get any money, what can we do? We are in the food business. We said let's feed our people," he said. 

Ruth's Chris harbors some confusion around its dress code

It goes without saying that most fancy steakhouses maintain some semblance of a dress code. While some establishments are more lenient than others regarding what is permitted, Ruth's Chris is generally considered one of the stricter franchises when it comes to the attire required by its patrons for in-house dining. Per the company's own website, business casual is considered the dress guideline — and no ball caps, cut-off sleeves, athletic attire, or revealing garments are to be permitted in the dining rooms.

However, according to employees and customers alike, this stringent dress code may not always be enforced. This inconsistency has bred some confusion regarding the company's supposed official policy, inspiring numerous posts across social media platforms. "Can anyone tell me about the dress code?" reads one of these on Yelp, in which a responding user described the clothing requirement as "dressy," with denim jeans being a definite no. However, when this same question was posed on Tripadvisor, another individual responded with: "Just about anything goes. Casual to dressy is fine. They don't have a dress code and everyone is comfortable regardless of what you're wearing." Despite this slight lack of clarity, to ensure you'll be let in to dine at any Ruth's Chris, we recommend sticking to the official website's regulations before showing up for your reservation. 

Ruth Fertel's grandson expressed disappointment that the chain took a small business loan during COVID

One of the hardest hit professional sectors during the COVID pandemic was the restaurant industry, which relies on dine-in customers to stay afloat. The financial struggle for eateries was so intense that the federal government offered sums of money to help qualifying small businesses in the restaurant industry get through. But Ruth's Chris — a big chain by all accounts — used a loophole to acquire $20 million in government funds, despite its status as a large-scale company.

The decision backfired from a P.R. perspective. Furious throngs of people criticized the chain for what was universally considered to be a questionable action. One of these citizens was none other than Rien Fertel. Rien Fertel is the grandson of Ruth Fertel — the founding matriarch of Ruth's Chris — and he announced his disapproval via X, formerly known as Twitter. "Dear Ruth's Chris," the post read. "Ruth's grandson here. I salute the decision you made yesterday to return the $20 million small business loan. But it's not enough." He then went on to express his desire for the chain to "do more," to take more formative action to give back to people in the same way that his grandmother had strived to do so many years ago. Whether or not Ruth's Chris has taken its founder's family member's advice into account, however, we cannot say. 

Ruth's Chris was recently acquired by Darden Restaurants, Inc.

Darden Restaurants, Inc. is a powerhouse in the restaurant operation industry. The company, which is based out of Florida, owns Olive Garden, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, and LongHorn Steakhouse, among others. And as of May 2023, the company has added yet another successful restaurant chain to its collection.

This newcomer is none other than Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, which the corporation purchased for $715 million. With 155 locations in total, Ruth's Chris has become Darden's fourth biggest chain behind Olive Garden, LongHorn, and Cheddar's. Darden plans to expand the celebrated steakhouse by about 10% per year. After the Ruth's Chris acquisition, Darden controls three of the five biggest steakhouse chains in the U.S. We suppose we will just have to wait and see what new and exciting changes, developments, or locations may possibly be in the works for Ruth's Chris under its new ownership.

A satirical Clickhole article about Ruth's Chris confused some people in 2022

If there's one thing other than steak that Ruth's Chris is famous for, it's its rather unusual name. The interesting title has prompted questions from consumers on various online platforms. One would think the constant curiosity from customers would grow old for the restaurant, but the franchise has taken it with grace.

But in 2022, a satirical article on Clickhole claimed the steakhouse had finally lost its composure. The piece jokingly claimed Ruth's Chris had run multiple posts filled with expletives directed at consumers, making blatant requests for people to cease questioning its name. "How about if our name was Ruth is Chris Steakhouse? [...] We can go onnn and on. No issue for us to switch it up, since our customers clearly get off on bawling their eyes out over something as simple as 'Ruth's Chris.'" The article also included supposed screenshots of the obscene posts. These statements attributed to Ruth's Chris made their way across the internet, sparking conversations as to their legitimacy on Reddit. "Anyone who thought this was real needs to learn to navigate the internet better," said one user — Clickhole is, after all, a well-known humor website.

Ruth's Chris was once sued for racial discrimination

In 2020, a group of people celebrating over a meal at a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Memphis claimed to have had racial slurs hurled at them by a patron from across the room while trying to enjoy their food. When one member of the group, Deshun Fletcher (who filmed the incident), reported the offending person's actions to a restaurant's staff, no formative actions were taken to reprimand or remove the individual. When Fletcher then approached the offending patron himself, wait staff reportedly asked him and his dining companions to leave. 

The furious Fletcher didn't hesitate to take action, calling Ruth's Chris out on news outlets as well as filing a lawsuit for discrimination. Though the end result of this particular legal battle is unclear, one thing's for sure: Being accused of discriminatory action is never a good look for a business.