Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of a New Orleans institution known around the world for steaks that sizzle: Ruth's Chris Steak House. In May 1965, Ruth Fertel was a recently divorced mother working as a Tulane medical lab technician. As told by her son Randy in his book, The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Family Memoir, Ruth came across a newspaper ad in which steak house owner Chris Matulich was seeking a buyer for his Chris Steak House at 1100 N. Broad St. Although she had no restaurant experience, Ruth mortgaged the family home for $22,000 to buy the business on May 24, 1965.
Matulich granted Fertel the rights to the restaurant's name as long as she kept the original location. When a 1976 fire forced her to move, she added her name to the title. Ruth's restaurant empire ultimately included more than 140 franchises worldwide, but at her home base at Orleans Avenue and North Broad Street, she remained a hands-on owner who catered to politicians, businesspeople and steak lovers of all kinds. Ruth sold a majority interest in the company in 1999. She died in 2002.