After 30 years in Midtown, Ruth’s Chris Steak House is closing; the lease is up and the parent company opted not to renew. When a big-name landmark spot closes, it prompts all kinds of questions: In this case, is the closure a sign of a waning brand, a harbinger of restaurant closings to come, or has NYC reached peak steakhouse?
“When you add the kind of double whammy of less a-la-carte, less private dining, less people, higher prices, inflationary times, recessionary times — there’s a lot of winds that are in the face of owners of restaurants like steakhouses,” restaurant consultant Steve Zagor told Crain’s New York.
A spokesperson from Ruth’s Hospitality Group confirmed the restaurant is closing April 22 and it’s “actively exploring opportunities in Manhattan.” The group also thanked “all of the New Yorkers who have dined with us at 51st Street since 1993,” as well as Manhattan employees, who have been offered roles at nearby Ruth’s Chris locations.
Ruth’s Chris has a long history to lean on, but perhaps that’s not enough in a city with a crowded steakhouse landscape. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, originally Chris Steak House, was founded in New Orleans in the late 1920s, was taken over by Ruth Fertel in the ‘60s, and today is headquartered in the land of snowbirds — Winter Park, Florida.
In 2019, Ruth’s Hospitality made $468 million in revenue; in 2022, slightly less $429 million. Today, the company lists 150 locations — just none in Manhattan — though there’s one in Jersey City, Garden City, Tarrytown, and Melville. The company has also been hit with various worker lawsuits, most recently, a $45,000 Fair Workweek violation in Philadelphia.
The Ruth’s Chris closure isn’t a standalone steakhouse shutter: Earlier this month, BLT Steak closed its flagship location after 20 years. And during the pandemic, Ruth’s Hospitality Group closed 23 restaurants of its 130 restaurants in the spring of 2020. The company reported that of its fleet, takeout and delivery “were not viable at those locations.” Also during the pandemic, the company got $20 million in PPP money and returned it following outcries that many felt that those loans should go to independent restaurants.
One of Manhattan’s longstanding restaurant genres, the steakhouse has been a staple since its early days. Best known for its steak, potatoes, and chicken a la king, Delmonico’s helped define steakhouses, a restaurant that started as a pastry shop in 1827 by the Delmonico family, grew into a fine dining restaurant, moved to Beaver Street under owner Oscar Tucci, and, until 1977, was the training ground for restaurateurs like Sirio Maccioni of Le Cirque. Around the same time, New York ushered in restaurants like Old Homestead (1868) in what’s now the Meatpacking District, Keens Chophouse in Midtown (1885), Peter Luger in Brooklyn (1887), and The Palm, also in Midtown (1926).
Fast forward to the present, and newer NYC steakhouses have diversified, starting with a Miami-inspired variation with pink lighting and Art Deco details in Midtown’s newly opened Monterey; Vinyl Steakhouse in Flatiron that opened in May, pairing analog albums and red meat; U.K. import Hawksmoor in Gramercy that debuted in 2021 to acclaim and while Corner Bar, despite its predictable menu, for its chef pedigree has been heralded as a steakhouse that isn’t even a steakhouse.
Of course, there are also other buzzy contenders like Simon Kim’s Korean barbecue steakhouse, Cote, with its Michelin star; and Major Food Group’s the Grill in the stunning space that had been the Four Seasons. There’s still plenty of appetite for the stalwarts, too. Despite a dropped Michelin star and a Pete Wells pan, Peter Luger is as popular as ever. And there’s no danger of places like Gallaghers or Keens closing: but there is cutthroat competition.
More steakhouses may reside in New York than pre-pandemic, or at least more types of restaurants are falling in the category. One group listed New York as having 124 steakhouses as of 2019; if Yelp is to be believed, we’ve now got around 240 places that can loosely be called steakhouses.
Mercer Street Hospitality founder John McDonald says that people who go out for steak are more informed than ever. At his restaurant Bowery Meat Company Downtown, “We’ve seen no drop in demand for premium product. In fact, our chef has been sourcing even more expensive cuts and those are often the most popular,” he says. He compares his steakhouse customers to those who can navigate fish and high-end sushi: They’re aware of trends and nuances, particularly when high dollar checks are involved. (As an example its diversifying, Bowery Meat Company also has a virtual butcher shop. )
But price hikes are apparently on the way. The price of beef is expected to go up 15 percent this year; Monterey chef James Tracey notes that the increase could also affect whether steakhouses will thrive. “Steakhouses are part of New York culture and will never disappear, but because of the price of beef, the steak lover has to absorb the cost,” he says. To offset big ticket items on the menu, the restaurant offers a six-ounce filet, “which comes as a surprise when we have other great dry-aged steak, but perhaps it shows that people still want their meat fix but they choose the most affordable option.”
With the rise of global warming and cattle’s contribution to it — in addition to the fact that steakhouses can be a signifier of luxury and reinforce the gulf between rich and poor, blue states and red states – many restaurant owners are opening new places that offer a diverse menu with plenty of vegetables and one or two showstopper steaks: They’re less polarizing and more inclusive.
Vestry in Soho’s Dominick Hotel displays such a menu. From Australian-born Shaun Hergatt — who’s also behind Surf Lodge in Montauk and the newly opened Ren in Brooklyn — the Michelin-starred seafood- and vegetable-focused spot is devoid of steaks, with the exception of a splashy wagyu large plate.
Vestry is on trend when it comes to that fancy steak. But for steakhouses that haven’t capitalized on ways to make offerings fresh or new, they may find themselves socked by that post-pandemic double whammy.