Ruth Fertel (1927-2002)
Company: Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Size: $398.6 million for 2012
In 1965, Ruth Fertel was a divorced mother of two, working as a lab technician at Tulane University and worrying about how she would pay for her sons’ college education. One day, while flipping through the newspaper classifieds, she saw a restaurant for sale – Chris Steak House – and something clicked. Without any restaurant experience, she trusted her instinct to pursue that opportunity. While banks did not like to lend to women, she convinced a local bank to give her the $22,000 she needed to buy the business by putting her home up as collateral. She added her first name to the business, making it the tongue-twister she later joked about, Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Fertel had to learn everything – including how to butcher meat at the high-end restaurant. In 1976, she began to franchise the restaurant while continuing to open more herself. As of 2013, there are more than 120 Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses worldwide (including Hong Kong, Tokyo and Mexico), along with 20 restaurants bearing the company’s Mitchell’s Fish Markets, Mitchell’s Steakhouse and Cameron’s Steakhouse names. Ruth’s Chris’s Steak House became a publically held company in 2005.
“The restaurant staff was expecting me to fail, just like the others who had bought the restaurant before me, especially since I was a woman. Actually I never had a doubt that I would make it.”