When I saw it working that day in 1954, I felt like some latter-day Newton who’d just had an Idaho potato caromed off his skull. That night in my motel room I did a lot of heavy thinking about what I’d seen during the day. Visions of McDonald’s restaurants dotting crossroads all over the country paraded through my brain.
— Ray Kroc
Beth took me out to eat last night, a birthday celebration. We went to Ruth’s Chris in Middleton. The steaks there are ridiculously delicious, absurdly huge. Today we have half of my USDA prime New York strip nestled in the refrigerator next to the remains of Beth’s rib eye, the makings of at least one more dinner. Ruth’s Chris is an upscale chain that caters to a privileged clientele. Its regular customers are people who make at least twice as much as we do. Even so, the maitre d’s question put me off a little.
“Is this your first time at Ruth’s Chris?” he asked.
We had been talking about this in the car. It was definitely our first time at the Middleton Ruth’s Chris. It’s an odd name, “Ruth’s Chris.” We wondered about its provenance again last night. Wikipedia says,
The chain was founded by Ruth Fertel, a single mother of two, in 1965, after she bought the existing Chris Steak House in New Orleans. In buying the restaurant, Fertel had to agree that the restaurant keep the “Chris” name for a specified period of time. After the original location sustained a kitchen fire, she relocated the restaurant about one-half mile (0.9 km) to the west on Broad Street and renamed the rebuilt establishment “Ruth’s Chris.” Under the purchase agreement, the name “Chris Steak House” could not be used at any other location, and she did not want to lose customers already familiar with the Chris name. Fertel started to franchise the restaurant in the 1970s to locations throughout the United States and the world.
Ten years ago or so, Matt introduced us to the Beverly Hills location. We were baffled by the name then, thought maybe it was named after a favorite nephew or something. I’m glad Wikipedia has since emerged to resolve these bar-bet issues. Following that celebration of Matt’s graduation in Los Angeles, we didn’t find our way to another Ruth’s Chris for five years or so. That was in Kansas City, on the Plaza, another special occasion with Ben and Katie. Finally, Beth had enjoyed a night out at the King of Prussia, PA location across the mall from her hotel on a business trip a few years ago. That was the extent of our Ruth’s Chris experience.
So, yes–last night was our first visit to our local Ruth’s Chris Steak House. We had tried to eat there a few years ago, but in the welter of retail construction that is Middleton, we weren’t able to find it. I forget where we celebrated that night on the town. Later, we applied our amazing Google skillz and found the place, but it took a birthday to motivate us to make reservations.
The maitre d’s question had made me wonder if he thought he’d seen me stash my shopping cart and recyclable aluminum before we came in. Maybe he suspected me of pulling some of the longer butts from the ashtray, saving them for later. But, I was wearing a nice sweater, slacks, an overcoat, decent shoes… surely it’s a question he asks everyone he doesn’t know by sight, an icebreaker. I let it go. I enjoyed the meal, and topped it off with a delicious crème brulée, compliments of the house because it was my birthday. Ruth’s Chris: upscale franchise food, conveniently adjacent to the Verizon retail outlet, just across the boulevard from the Costco Wholesale Warehouse, and a hop, skip and a jump down the road from at least half a dozen retail cosmetic surgery clinics. Liposuction? You’ll need it after dining at Ruth’s Chris!