This is why it is called ‘Ruth’s Chris’

(NEXSTAR) – It’s not just you: even the founder of Ruth’s Chris Steak House is confused by the name.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House – the somewhat confusing restaurant chain that apparently both “Ruth” and “Chris” are related to – has managed to open nearly 150 locations around the world with very few people asking who “Ruth’s Chris” is.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Ruth’s Chris” is the right person. But he wasn’t “Ruth’s,” and he had nothing to do with the chain’s success.

The story of Ruth’s Chris Steak House began in 1927, when Chris Matulich opened a restaurant called Chris Steak House on Broad Street in New Orleans. He ended up selling the business six times over the next several decades, buying it back after each new owner’s efforts failed to run the place, according to “Eat Dat,” a guide to the culinary history of New Orleans written by Michael Murphy.

Matulich didn’t seem to have high hopes for the next entrepreneur who expressed interest in the place: a young woman named Ruth Fertel (nee Udstad), who had no experience running a restaurant. So he was sold for the seventh – and probably unknown to him – last time.

Fertel, a 38-year-old single mother working as a lab technician at Tulane University, had been looking for a way to pay her son’s tuition. His friends, family, lawyers and even the bank reportedly advised him to buy the steakhouse, but he ignored their warnings and mortgaged his home to buy the business for $18,000.

“They are very crazy to me,” he said in a 1998 interview with Louisiana Public Broadcasting’s “Louisiana Legends” series.

She found success over the next 11 years, even helping to give back to the community by serving relief workers and victims of Hurricane Betsy, and hiring an all-female waitress made up of single moms like herself.

Fertel is also working on designing a special broiler to help cook steaks to his specifications — a broiler still in use at Ruth’s Chris Steak House locations today, according to Ruth’s Hospitality Group.

In 1976, however, Chris Steak House burned down, forcing Fertel to find another space. But because of a clause in his purchase agreement with Matulich, he can’t use the name “Chris Steak House” unless he operates out of the original building. Fearing that anything too different from the name “Chris Steak House” would hurt his restaurant’s name recognition, he simply put “Ruth’s” in front.

And she regretted it almost immediately.

“I have always hated the name,” said Fertel fortune in the ’90s. “But we always manage to overcome it.”

A name that is a bit hard to pronounce doesn’t stop Ruth from enjoying her job either. A few years before he died in 2002, Fertel told Louisiana Public Broadcasting that he believed he had found his calling in the hospitality business, despite coming from a chemistry and physics background.

“I’m very happy that I fell into something that I really like,” she said. “And I think that if you ever go into business, you better find something that you really like because you spend so many hours with it, it almost becomes your life.”

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