You may have heard that the upscale steakhouse Ruth's Chris is coming to Biltmore Village, offering another answer to a question posed by visiting parents citywide: Where do I get a steak in this town?
In Asheville, we know that nearly every restaurant that serves meat usually provides one cut of beef or another. Granted, one tends to find hanger steak and other cheap-yet-flavorful cuts on local menus more readily than the filet mignon that sings a siren song of medium-rareness from every Ruth's Chris advertisement — you'll know it when you see it, trust us. (And we would be remiss to not remind you that Asheville has its own independent steakhouse in the Chop House on Woodfin Street in the downtown Four Points by Sheraton).
The Ruth's Chris franchise, in some eyes, lends further credence to this town as a food hot spot. The well-known steakhouse is noted for its ranks of giant porterhouses, rib-eyes, strips and T-bones. It's where you want to take the small-plate phobic and those weary of what they deem "weird" food. This is the place to bring your food-stubborn dad, let him order a manly Napa cabernet and tear into a huge chunk of cow.
Doug Snyder, the general manager of the Asheville-based location of the steakhouse chain (still under construction on All Souls Crescent), has been in the wine and food business for more than 20 years. He left the restaurant world to work as an import manager for Juice Wine Purveyors, a company that focuses on family-owned and operated wine estates around the world. Though the work was gratifying enough and the subject matter interested him — Snyder is a certified sommelier — he missed the restaurant business. He moved to Asheville from Chapel Hill to take the management position.
Snyder says that his extensive wine knowledge is one of the reasons he was invited to join the company, and oenophiles should expect his experience to show on the menu. Wine selections are not fully standardized among Ruth's Chris locations, Snyder says. “We have a lot of national deals in place with some California wineries, so we do have a core list, but about 50 percent of it is up to the manager to decide. Jeff Conway, the owner, wants to push things in a direction of a less traditional steakhouse approach in a way that would be more appealing to the serious wine lover. We're going to do some really cool things with the wine program.” That includes utilizing his personal knowledge of smaller-production, terroir-driven wines, Snyder says.
That's encouraging, especially for those who might eye such a large, successful restaurant chain moving into locally focused Asheville with some misgiving — and Snyder (as well as the ownership group he works for) is aware of this. “One of the things that I would like people to know is that we're not McDonald's. Yes, Ruth's Chris is a very well-known name, but there's only 127 worldwide. Of those, over 50 percent are franchisee-owned.” Asheville Prime LLC, the ownership group for the Biltmore Ruth's Chris, consists of local developer and entrepreneur John Bell, CEO of The Columbus Group, and Ruth’s Chris franchisee Paula Conway. Paula and her husband, Jeff, former CFO of Ruth’s Chris Steak House Inc., formed Charlotte Prime LLC in 2005. Since then, they have opened three restaurants, two in Charlotte, N.C., and one in Savannah, Ga.
Asheville's Ruth's Chris, says Snyder, will work to be a community-oriented business that will employ about 70 locals and host fundraisers for local charities. “We're not a big corporate monster,” says Snyder. “We bring the best of the corporate mindset and the best of the independent mindset and leave the baggage behind." This means, he says, a commitment to consistency and quality — but with local identity. "I'm working very hard to source as many local vendors as I can,” Snyder says. Those local foods will include Annie's Naturally Bakery breads and locally roasted coffee (he's still looking for the best source) — and, of course, local beer. He'll look to use local companies for fish and produce as well. “Really, the only thing that we don't mess with is the meat. We use only USDA-prime beef, and that accounts for the top 2 percent of all beef — quite honestly, there's not enough supply to meet demand.”
If Ruth's Chris regularly fills its approximately 200 seats with steak-eaters, that's quite a bit of beef.
The restaurant, to be located at 26 All Souls Crescent, is slated to open in December. For more information, visit http://www.ruths-chris.com.