24 December 2005

Ruth's Chris Sellout (Steakhouse): Former CPA Speaks/New HQ Photos

In 1965 Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse now-deceased founder and owner Ruth Fertel dedicated herself and her business to the rebuilding and recovery of New Orleans after the flooding brought about by Hurricane Betsy. In 2005 Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse CEO Craig Miller took a different approach when New Orleans was once again confronted with devastating flooding--this time due to Hurricane Katrina: he permamently relocated the corporate offices of the company from New Orleans to Orlando. I’ve touched on this subject a few times on the blog and speculated a few things concerning CEO Craig Miller’s decision to abandon New Orleans. Friday’s New Orleans CityBusiness daily email featured a discussion with Ruth Fertel’s former CPA and as an insider he echoed the suspicions I stated a while back . . .

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?

Comments? Views? Opinions? Contact seymourdfair@gmail.com


At January 05, 2006 12:42 AM, Blogger Mr. Clio said...

Kudos to Seymour!

Wow. I'm impressed you made it over there.

I had a similar impulse in D.C. a few weeks ago and took pictures in front of FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers HQ.

Sorry I haven't linked to your impressive blog before. I'm fixing it now. Please keep up the excellent work!

At January 05, 2006 5:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Got a gift certificate to Drago's instead of the regular Ruth's Chris from a vendor this year.

Always liked Drago's better anyway...

At January 21, 2009 1:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...







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