Ruth's Chris Sellout (Steakhouse): Former CPA Speaks/New HQ Photos
Why Ruth's Chris should have stayed in N.O.
CityBusiness Editor Terry
New Orleans native Jim Ryder, 61, has spent his entire life in New Orleans. The former CPA for Ruth’s Chris creator Ruth Fertel said no matter how current management spins its hasty post-Katrina departure from New Orleans, the insensitive relocation has the late Fertel spinning in her grave.
"I’m not trying to attack (Ruth’s Chris CEO Craig Miller) or his decision but there’s a couple of things I take exception to," Ryder said. "But that’s not what Ruth would have done. To make the comment that Ruth would do it is just too much. It’s exactly the opposite. How you can make that decision two or three days into the storm about the long-term future of the company?
"Whether it was the right thing or not, time will tell, but the timing of the decision was pretty callous. It came literally when people were still being plucked off roofs and Ruth’s grave in Metairie Cemetery was still under water."
What would Fertel have done in the same circumstance? Ryder, who became Fertel’s CPA in the early 1970s and was an original Ruth’s Chris board member, has an insight matched by few.
"Loyalty would have been at the top of her list of paramount virtues," he said. "She wouldn’t have acquiesced in that decision without having it demonstrated it would not work over a long period of time."
Ryder said Miller and the rest of the Ruth’s Chris executives misread the need to flee. "I think it might be the wrong thing for the company in the long term," Ryder said. "I don’t think the executives appreciate how strongly Ruth felt about keeping the company here."
When Fertel sold Ruth’s Chris to an investor group in 1999 through an auction process involving about 20 interested parties, one of her sale conditions was a pledge to keep the company here.
"My long-term concern is, separated from New Orleans and the roots of the company and how it got to be the company it is, it’s going to morph into just another chain of restaurants," he said. "It’s not going to be Ruth’s Chris over time." The irony is Hurricane Betsy helped Fertel get her start, Ryder said, and Hurricane Katrina made the franchise move. He said restoration workers in 1965 packed this "hidden gem on Ursulines" every night.
Many suspect Miller was ready to flee to Florida even before Hurricane Katrina blew up New Orleans. Milller is a native Floridian although he hadn't lived in his home state for a quarter century.
"It seems there was a preinclination to make this move," Ryder said. "Craig’s from Orlando and most people thought they eventually would like to do it and this was a convenient excuse. Even if this decision had to be made, I thought it was unseemly to do a press release-type thing. I thought it was pretty insensitive."
Ryder is now more resigned than enraged about the loss of a business he helped build. "I’m not suggesting boycott but somehow voices have to be raised to remind them psyches were bruised and feelings were hurt when they did what they did," he said. "They need to do more than just open a couple of restaurants here."
I commend Mr. Ryder for coming out and making these statements. I differ with him, however, in that I suggest to everyone: BOYCOTT RUTH'S CHRIS STEAKHOUSE. Especially boycott the location in Metairie--and in Baton Rouge and the other Louisiana locations. Politicos--have your power lunches elsewhere. I don't think we need to worry about boycotting the original location on Broad as my money says it will never reopen despite its importance in this thing called "history" of the company.
As the previous posts on THE THIRD BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS illustrate, I am currently in Florida and as yesterday’s post shows I am in Orlando. So naturally, a trip over to the new corporate Ruth’s Chris Sellout HQ to the north in Heathrow was too easy to pass up. Here’s what I found . . .
Hey, a Louisiana license plate on this black Lincoln Towncar parked in front of the Ruth's Chris Sellout building--the only car in a fairly large parking lot. And it was bought at Marshall Brothers Lincoln Mercury in Metairie. Hmmm--wonder who's hard at work at the office at 7am on Christmas Eve day?
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