So Just What Does 'Ruth's Chris' Mean?
By Anne Faircloth

(FORTUNE Magazine) – You've wolfed down the 16-ounce New York Strip; you've consumed the one-pound baked potato; you've even managed the Chocolate Praline Encore. Now, as you sit back, satiated and content, a burning question lingers: what's the deal with this restaurant's name? "Ruth's Chris Steak House" is so unwieldy that one restaurant critic suggested it would make a great sobriety test. If you can't say it three times, put down that martini.

How did a chain that perfected a special oven for broiling steak to maximum juiciness get stuck with such a name? Ruth Fertel started out in 1965 by buying a 60-seat restaurant in New Orleans called Chris Steak House. It was owned by a fellow named, aptly enough, Chris Matulich, who'd run the place since 1927. Matulich gave Fertel the right to keep the name as long as the restaurant stayed in the original location. After a fire in 1976 forced her to relocate, Fertel had a week to invent a new name. The agreement with Matulich prevented her from using "Chris Steak House," but that was how everyone knew the place. So, in a move that would horrify marketing consultants everywhere, she tacked on her name--and a tongue twister was born.

"I've always hated the name," declares Fertel. "But we've always managed to work around it." Indeed, in spite of it the chain has grown to 66 restaurants in five countries. Her ads have even played up the name's clumsiness. And anyway, Fertel says she's "always made the steak the star." Clearly, a wise move.

--Anne Faircloth