Mike wrote in with a question that I’ve always wondered about too. What’s up with the apostrophe in “Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse”? It seems like a weird name, like it should be Ruth Chris’s Steakhouse.
Fortunately, the company has the story on its website, and after you hear it, it’ll make sense.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House
There really was a Ruth, and her name was Ruth Fertel. In 1965, she bought a steak house in New Orleans called “Chris Steak House,” and she ran the restaurant for many years, turning it into a huge local success, according to the website.
But in 1976 a kitchen fire destroyed the restaurant, and for some reason, the terms of the sale when she bought the restaurant wouldn’t let her open a new restaurant in another location with the name “Chris Steak House,” but she needed to move to stay in business after the fire. To get around the problem, she renamed it, putting her name in front. It was her steak house: Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Now it all makes sense, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House has locations all over the world.
Mike’s question also reminded me of another company with a strange apostrophe in its name: Carl’s Jr. (which is a fast-food burger restaurant). I knew two Italian exchange students who were confounded by “Carl’s Jr.” They had learned about how English apostrophes work, and "Carl’s Jr." didn’t make sense. They thought it had to be “Carlos Jr.” or that we were just messing with them.
Again, there really was a Carl, and his name was Carl Karcher. In 1941, he opened a hot dog cart in Los Angeles with his wife Margaret, and within a few years they had a whole restaurant called Carl’s Drive-In Barbecue. Carl’s Jr. came into being in 1956 when they opened two smaller restaurants (one in Anaheim, California, and one in Brea, California), and they called them “Jr.” because they were smaller versions of the bigger drive-in barbecue. So just like a son who is a “Jr.” is maybe thought to be a little version of his father, or at least a chip off the old block, the two “Jr.” restaurants were smaller versions of the parent restaurant. The two new restaurants also had simpler menus, so the concept of “junior” in this case could also mean “simpler,” like how Boggle Junior is a simpler version of the regular Boggle game. But whether they were juniors because they were smaller or juniors because they were simpler (or both), they were Carl’s junior restaurants.
On the subject of confusing apostrophes, fans of the show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” may recall Rebecca’s irritation with the name of the local nightclub, “Spider’s.” She complains to her friend, “Is it possessive 'Spider's' or plural 'Spiders'? Every time I see a flyer of it the apostrophe moves.” Episodes later, Rebecca causes a scene at the club but briefly escapes the ensuing drama when she overhears the owner’s name: “Mr. Spiders!” She was relieved to know the answer, and I hope patrons of Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Carl’s Jr. feel the same way.
Thanks for the question, Mike.
Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” and her 2018 tip-a-day calendar.