Dennis Denk, chef at Ruth's Chris Steak House at PPG Place, trims and breaks down a whole tenderloin into filet mignon steaks.
By Margaret Smykla
It's all about family at Ruth's Chris Steak House, Downtown.
"It feels like one big, happy family," said waitress Roxann D'Alessandro, 58, of Scott. She has worked there for a quarter of a century.
The restaurant, at Six PPG Place, is owned by a family: Jack and Peggy Offenbach and sons Scott, Gregg and Todd.
"They're really wonderful people to work for," said another 25-year employee, sales manager Patty Dini, 47, of Dormont.
Executive chef and kitchen manager Denny Denk, 52, said his love of cooking and the camaraderie at the restaurant are the reasons for his 25-year stint at one establishment in a business that is notorious for high employee turnover.
"I love it here; it does not seem like work," the Robinson man said.
On Oct. 22, the Offenbach family celebrated the 25-year anniversary of their dining establishment with a dinner for their three 25-year employees and their spouses.
In recognition of the Nov. 2, 1987, opening, customers who buy entrees from Friday through Sunday will receive $25 gift certificates to use by year's end, and free bread pudding desserts will be available with entrees during the first week of November.
The roots of the enterprise were planted when a friend of Jack Offenbach of Shadyside told him that PPG Industries wanted to put a restaurant in the building.
The Offenbachs were not new to the field, having owned 40 Arby's franchises as well as Tequila Junction in Station Square and the Samurai Japanese Steak & Seafood Restaurant in Scott.
When the friend said he knew someone who had the "greatest concept ever" -- referring to the Ruth's Chris franchise -- Mr. Offenbach and his wife, Peggy, 78, both longtime fans, met with founder Ruth Fertel at what was then corporate headquarters in New Orleans to discuss such a venture.
Mrs. Fertel spent a month in Pittsburgh helping to get the enterprise off the ground.
"She was a professional businesswoman but as down to earth as somebody's grandmother," manager Scott Offenbach, 55, of Mt. Lebanon recalled.
The new restaurant became the 16th Ruth's Chris site; today, the company has 134 restaurants worldwide.
In Pittsburgh, grain-fed U.S. Agriculture Department prime beef is shipped to the restaurant twice a week. Filet is the most popular entree, outselling New York strip, rib-eye, T-bone and Porterhouse.
Other selections include lamb chops, veal chops, chicken, fresh seafood and lobster tail.
The kitchen typically serves 350 to 400 dinners on a Saturday evening.
Scott Offenbach recalled that in the early years, customers often commented that the food and service were great, but it would never last because of the location.
"Downtown, in our case, is an advantage because, being centrally located, we get patrons from all directions," he said, referring to the business and cultural districts, the ballparks just across the river and more.
While the corporate offices make suggestions, Scott Offenbach said he has the choice of whether to adopt them. The restaurant and the flagship maintain contact, with the latter privy to the restaurant's sales figures. The company also sends undercover diners to critique overall dining experiences.
Famous patrons over the years have included actors Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, and former basketball star Michael Jordan.
Actor Ernest Borgnine stopped in a few months before his death in July at age 95.
"He had folks pull up chairs. He talked to everyone who wanted to talk," Jack Offenbach said.
Scott Offenbach said the most challenging aspect of operating a restaurant is keeping the quality of the food and service consistently the best.