Friday, February 15, 2008

A Ruth's by any other name

Restaurants routinely name menu items after people, be it the Gene Simmons Sandwich (tongue with lots of dressing) or a Paris Hilton dessert (tart or cheesecake, take your pick). But it’s far less routine to dedicate a section of the dining area to someone, especially when that person is another restaurateur.

But if you book a private function at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Knoxville, Tenn., you’ll options will now include the Regas Room, a tribute in carpet, wood and wall coverings to a famed local clan of restaurateurs. Oldtimers still cite Bill Regas as one of those unsung giants of the business, an entrepreneur who put the same emphasis on people, training and service that persons of a younger vintage would associate with the likes of Danny Meyer. He was also active in industry affairs through his service to the National Restaurant Association. Hence the Ruth’s Chris connection. The chain is headed by Craig Miller, a former chairman of the NRA and still an active director.

Bill and his business partner/cousin, Gus, are the sons of the Regas brothers who opened the landmark local Regas Restaurant. The family sold a part of their business in the 1980s to Brinker International, which eventually sold it to Quality Dining, with the name changed along the way. Now the Regas name will enshrined inside the Ruth’s Chris, which itself pays tribute to legendary restaurateur Ruth Fertel.

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