A Celebration of Inspiring Women
I’m going to list three names and you have to guess what they all have in common — and their first names being the same doesn’t count! 😊
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that you may not know who some of these women are. However, they were all remarkable in their time and I felt it was fitting to recognize them during Women’s History Month. I’m excited to share a little bit about them, their stories and why they’re each someone to look up to as women in business, mothers, entrepreneurs and those in the foodservice and hospitality industry.
Ruth Fertel is best known as the founder of Ruth's Chris Steak House and, in my opinion, was an extremely determined human being.
You see, Fertel was a single mother, and it was 1965. She wasn’t making enough money in her job to enable her boys to attend whatever college they desire, and she wanted to help them pursue their dreams. With no restaurant experience, Fertel mortgaged her home to purchase a restaurant (then called Chris Steak House) in New Orleans, LA.
While she learned to operate the business — even butchering the meat herself —Fertel continued to push the envelope. According to an article on Business Insider, Fertel “preferred to employ single mothers like herself because she believed they were reliable and hard workers. Chris Steak House was the only restaurant in New Orleans with an all-female waitstaff.”
Shortly after purchasing Chris Steak House, Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans. The company’s website shares a story about how the power was knocked out and Ruth generously served all the perishable food to the community. And when tragedy struck again 10 years later, when a kitchen fire struck the original restaurant location, she relocated a few blocks away, and renamed the restaurant Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Paying homage to the original name because of a contractual agreement and recognizing the importance of the continuity for branding purposes.
Ultimately, when Fertle stepped down in 1999, Ruth’s Chris Steak House had more than 80 locations across the country. She passed away a few years later at the age of 75.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, albeit not from our industry, is a woman who needs no introduction. After all, she is notorious. However, many of us know her in more recent years, leading up to her role as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. I want to talk a bit about RBG before she reached this milestone in her career because she spent a lifetime flourishing the face of adversity.
Born in 1933, RBG was the second child of an emigrant from Odessa, Ukraine (at the time it was part of the Russian Empire), and her mother was a first generation American (whose parents came from Krakow, Poland). They lived in Brooklyn, NY, and when RBG was only 14 months old, her older sister passed away from meningitis. Despite the sadness the loss of a child would bring a family, RBG’s mother became extremely involved in her daughter’s studies and instilled a passion for learning. Unfortunately, her mother battled cancer while RBG was in high school and passed away shortly before graduation.
RBG’s personal and professional struggles never deterred her from reaching academic goals and, in my opinion, probably made her more determined to succeed. I think this period of her life is best looked at through a timeline to really understand the expectations of society and those that RBG had of herself.
I’ll let you absorb all that for a minute because it’s a lot to take in …
Ready? So, here’s the story … RBG entered Harvard Law School and there were less than 10 women in a class of about 500 men. She was even chided by the dean who according to Wikipedia asked, “Why are you at Harvard Law School, taking the place of a man?" Fast forward a few years when RGB needed to relocate to NYC and that same dean denied her ability to graduate from Harvard. So, RBG didn’t stay in Cambridge, MA, to complete her degree, she moved with her family and transferred to Columbia University. Then, she became the first woman to be on two major law reviews: the Harvard Law Review and Columbia Law Review.
The other takeaway I have from the History Channel is this … now I’ve never been to law school, but it’s your first year at Harvard Law School and I’m going to assume that’s a hard gig. You have a toddler (I know that isn’t always easy … hello pandemic!). You have a sick husband. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg is setting the bar even higher, taking on the challenge of keeping Martin up-to-speed on his studies, while maintaining a position at the top of the class.
All I can say is RBG was remarkable. And despite all of this, she continued to encounter gender discrimination after graduation. Guess who showed them?!
Ruth Weiss, she’s my favorite Ruth of all time and I know many of you don’t know her. I can tell you a lot of stories about my grandmother, but first and foremost, I want to pay tribute to her during Women’s History month because she’s one of the most influential women in my life from a personal and business perspective. Some of you may have had the opportunity to meet her at a NAFEM Show — she most recently attended about five or six years ago — or, if you’re local to NY, maybe you remember seeing her when my grandfather was working at Superior (a foodservice equipment and smallwares dealer).
Grandma Ruthie, as we called her, was a jack of all trades and boy did she have a knack for selling and business. My grandmother grew up in Queens, NY, and her parents owned the local general store. She learned how to sell everything at a young age from, I assume, my great grandfather. And it was skill that she held near and dear.
Over the years, Grandma Ruthie always found something to keep busy with, even while raising three active children in the 1960s. First, there was the catering business she operated out of the local synagogue. Then, there were the coffee shops, concession stands and snack bars she and my Grandpa also ran over several summers on both upstate and on Long Island! And then, years later, when my cousins and I were in the picture, I remember her starting a business out of her house, converting the garage to a store!
Ruthie is the definition of an entrepreneur; when she was determined to do something, boy did she do it! I like to think I got that trait from her!
The other takeaway I have about my grandmother’s ability to sell is she was one of the most hospitable people ever. When you spoke to her, my Grandma Ruthie had a way of making you feel like she’d known you forever — sharing stories, making eye contact and doing it all with a smile. When she sold anything, you wanted to buy it because she made a personal connection and not necessarily because it was something you desired or needed.
My grandmother lived an incredible life. She raised three children who all picked up her entrepreneurial spirit, each operating their own business, and had seven grandchildren, many of whom have also taken on roles in the family businesses. She passed away last summer leaving an incredible legacy and I’m so lucky to be part of it, and even more so, I’m grateful that my daughter had an opportunity to meet her Great Grandma Ruthie too (see the picture above of four generations: me, Ruthie, my daughter and my dad). We miss her dearly.
Getting back to our original question, what do these three individuals — Ruth Fertle, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Ruth Weiss have in common? For me, I notice that they all have all left a legacy of determination and an ability to exceed expectations. These traits are extremely admirable and are just one of the reasons why these women important to me.
So, tell me, as we wrap up this Women’s History Month … what women do you look up to and why?