Recently, I shared the incredible story of Ruth Fertel and how her famous steakhouse, Ruth’s Chris, got it’s name. While researching Ruth’s history, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by what we have in common. She was a single mom raising two boys on her own, and I was raised by a single mom who always encouraged me to follow my dreams. I can tell you from my own experience that a single parent family dynamic of love and survival definitely imparts a strong work ethic and a sort of entrepreneurial “I can do this” spirit. Ruth had that kind of resolve — she bought a business on a hunch and created one of the most well known steak houses in the world. Here are a few lessons I learned about the importance of passion in business from Ruth Fertel.
1 – Trust Your Gut
When Ruth was searching for a way to make extra money to send her sons to college, she followed her intuition after seeing an ad in the local paper for a restaurant for sale. The steak house had opened on Ruth’s birthday and she took that as a sign that it was meant to be. Call it instinct, confidence, or just plain coincidence about that special date — but I believe most successful business owners lead with their heart as well as their mind.
Early in my career, I followed my heart and listened to a hunch too. When I was looking for a career change as a banker, I stumbled upon an ad for a historic property for sale in my home town. Just a few short months before, I had stayed at a bed and breakfast and contemplated owning one someday. So, when this opportunity popped up — located on a street that was a family name — I took that as a sign that this career change was the right direction for me. Looking back, it was this very transition that brought me into the travel and hospitality industry that I work in today.
2 – Don’t Be Afraid Of Wearing Multiple Hats
Working as a chemistry lab technician, Ruth had no restaurant experience whatsoever when she purchased Chris Steak House. She dove right in with enthusiastic determination, doing whatever job needed to be done— from cooking, to waiting tables, and even butchering meat. Small business owners typically start off wearing multiple hats just to make ends meet, but it’s also a valuable hands-on lesson in what what needs to be done and who you need to hire in order to help the business grow. As soon as Ruth was able, she paid it forward by hiring hard working single moms to fill the jobs in her restaurant.
I certainly understand what it’s like to roll up your sleeves and wear multiple hats as an entrepreneur. I had purchased the inn on a dream and a hunch, but I had never renovated a home, organized a reservations system, or purchased so many white linens in my life. As a small business owner, I filled every roll, spending my mornings doing laundry, my afternoons at Chamber of Commerce meetings, my evenings checking-in guests, and my nights working on the business side of things. There’s a quote by Mihaly Csikszentmidhalyi that says, “Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act.” I certainly hit that boundary as it felt like my time was pushed to the limit, but I truly enjoyed every minute of it and learned so much about my own capabilities.
3 – Never Stop Learning
Not only was Ruth self-taught when it came to the business roles I described above, but she also figured out how to upgrade the broiler to sear the steaks. Putting her chemistry education to the test, she tweaked the broiler until the steaks were seared at 1800 degrees, perfecting their sealed-in tender flavor and creating the Ruth’s Chris signature sizzle.
As a business owner myself, I also needed to be innovative and figure out new ways to market my business with a limited budget. This is when I started blogging as it seemed to be a great way of sharing recipes and stories about activities to do in our town, thus giving guests a reason to stay longer. It was so new at the time that I had to teach myself how to build a blog through my own research and a little bit of trial and error. When I finally launched the blog (and subsequently opened an account on this new thing at the time called Twitter), there were a few nay-sayers in my community. They told me I was wasting my time since blogs were only used by teenagers and insomniacs. As I’ve now built a strong business around blogging and travel the world sharing stories about food, I’m so glad I didn’t listen to the nay-sayers.
4 – Making Work Fun
As an entrepreneur, it seems you’re always working and your thoughts are consumed by a steady stream of new ideas on how to nurture your business to grow. So, you have to make it fun, otherwise it can be overwhelming. You either love it or leave it.
Ruth, despite all the hard work involved in running a restaurant, definitely knew how to have a good time. She would greet everyone that walked through Ruth’s Chris door with a big smile and invite them to play a lively game of cards when the work day was done. To her, they weren’t just guests, the were friends and family.
As an innkeeper, and even now as a publisher, I realize I traded in my stressful corporate 9 to 5 for an exciting and fun 24/7 schedule sharing stories about cultures and food. Though the hours are sometimes long, I couldn’t imagine my life any other way.
So what is the bottom line when it comes to the importance of passion in business? Without it, any soul would likely give up on this bumpy ride of being an entrepreneur. But by creating something meaningful, learning new things, and having a bit of fun in the process, being a business owner can be one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. I plan to continue pursuing this dream of travel writing and publishing, living my life with passion, and hope to leave a legacy as inspiring as Ruth Fertel.
Disclosure: I was invited by Ruth’s Chris Steak House to learn about the woman behind the name and to discover and share their story as they celebrate their 50th anniversary this year.