Mayor Muriel Bowser had two things to do yesterday.
At noon, she held a press conference to give an update on the District’s emergency preparedness related to the volatile situation in Iran.
“As mayor of our nation’s capital, I want to assure residents and visitors that there are no immediate threats to Washington D.C.,” she said from a lectern, flanked by law enforcement officers and members of her cabinet. Bowser said she is in close contact with federal and regional partners and will continue to monitor events at home and abroad.
LL couldn’t make it to the early afternoon session. He opted instead to attend Herronor’s late afternoon gathering, where she cut the ceremonial first slab of meat to celebrate the opening of a new Ruth’s Chris Steak House at 21st and L streets NW.
In a city where groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings are epidemic, Ruth’s Chis wanted to spice things up a bit and traded giant scissors and ribbon for a knife and a sizzling 11-ounce filet.
“Are you with me?” Bowser asked the small crowd gathered to watch people cut into steaks they weren’t going to eat. Getting a lackluster response, Bowser asked again “Are you with me?!”
The mayor’s reasons for attending were clear. “I’m here because I’m the mayor, but mostly I’m here because I love Ruth’s Chris, and everybody knows it,” she declared. “And there’s nothing wrong with having a steak in sizzling butter, now is there?”
Bowser proclaimed to speak for all steak-loving Washingtonians, of which LL is certain there are many, in welcoming the restaurant to its new location in Ward 2. She said she’s dined in Ruth’s Chris restaurants in “many, many cities.”
Ruth’s Chris used to have two locations in D.C., but their restaurant on 9th Street NW closed in 2018. The operators decided to move from their spot on Connecticut Avenue NW into the new, bigger space at 21st and L streets NW, the restaurant’s general manager, Kimberly Lewis, says. The new location will officially open Monday, Jan. 13.
“What the restaurant industry represents to us are D.C. residents earning good wages, great tips, and building a career in hospitality,” Herronor said. Bowser has consistently opposed eliminating the District’s lower minimum wage for tipped workers. Residents voted to eliminate the $4.45 tipped minimum wage in a 2018 ballot initiative but the Council subsequently repealed the initiative.
During her short speech before the steak cutting, the mayor read from a letter that she later presented to Lewis, the GM:
“As mayor of Washington, D.C., it’s my pleasure to congratulate Ruth’s Chris on the opening today of the latest location of your storied steak house,” Bowser read. “Ruth’s Chris will no doubt soon be talked about [as] a steak house thriving in the West End, right here in Ward 2. To the entire Ruth’s Chris team, I’m glad that you continue to be a vital part of our city’s great culinary landscape.”
Applause, applause, applause, and then Bowser joined the three other steak cutters, including the D.C. Chamber of Commerce’s office coordinator, Jannie Orange, who attended the event in place of her father, local baseball hero and the chamber’s president and CEO, Vincent Orange Sr.
Lewis and Marc Heyison, founder of the charity Men Supporting Women With Cancer (formerly Men Against Breast Cancer) joined Bowser and Orange. Proceeds from the dinner that followed the steak-cutting will benefit Heyison’s charity, Lewis said.
Servers dressed in black carried white hot plates with sizzling filets to the table, and the audience toasted with flutes of sparkling wine as Bowser and the gang sawed away. The filets did not appear to be cooked to LL’s taste, but beggars can’t be choosers.
“Send some steak over here!” someone yelled from the audience.
“That sure smells good!” shouted another.
Bowser attended the steak-cutting at a time when the District’s locally owned small restaurants are fighting to continue operating. While the Florida-based steakhouse chain has more than 150 locations worldwide, more than 100 restaurants and bars in D.C. closed in 2019. Many owners cited rent increases and other unfavorable market conditions. Often it’s chains like Ruth’s Chris that can afford to replace them, stripping the city of the individual character that attracts residents and visitors to dine here.
LL also wonders if the national chain is worthy of such a pedestal. The company has been the target of lawsuits throughout the country, including a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2011. The suit accused Ruth’s Chris of routinely discriminating against women and racial minorities in pay and promotions. The suit also alleges a sexually charged work environment with unwanted advances, physical groping, and retaliation against those who reported the behavior. The case settled in 2012.
Following the celebration, LL asked the mayor what her favorite cut of steak is.
“I like a New York strip,” Bowser said as she made her way to the bar, leaving the filet behind.
As far as ribbon, er steak, cuttings go, LL found the Ruth’s Chris event lacking a certain panache. Perhaps the mayor will step it up for the grand opening of the Cheesecake Factory later this year.