NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Earnings season has been filled with disappointments in the restaurant industry, most recently from the likes of Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) - Get Report and Starbucks (SBUX) - Get Report. But there's one steady performer that seems to go unnoticed on Wall Street.
I suspect this is all about to change. If you have never heard of
Ruth's Hospitality Group
, I feel sorry for you because you are probably still searching for that perfect steak. You have also probably missed one of the best stock performances of the year; RUTH is currently up 35% with no meaningful signs of slowing down.
The company that operates popular Ruth's Chris Steakhouses across the nation, among other restaurants, is not only the talk of many towns when people recommend a great dining experience. This weekend it also became the talk of my household because the experience likely saved my marriage.
Chris To The Rescue
How did it happen? Without going into too much detail, anyone who knows me knows that I'm prone to putting my foot in my mouth from time to time. This goes together with my never being at a loss for words. Except, the words sometimes come too fast and too furious and, if I'm not careful, are also tactless.
Last week, I said the wrong thing to my better half -- and this time it had the kind of impact that flowers and candy couldn't cure. I was in the doghouse, and I wanted out.
I made reservations at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in downtown Charlotte for seven o'clock on Saturday night -- well, at least I thought I did. My wife and I pulled up to the restaurant, I handed my keys to the valet, and we strolled in 15 minutes fashionably late. We walked up to the host and said: "Saintvilus, party of two for 7 o'clock."
The host scanned her schedule and then re-scanned it. When she looked up and asked, "How do you spell that?" I realized that I was in trouble and began to sweat.
You have to realize, I spent the entire day pampering my wife to no avail. Nothing worked, and I was running out of options. She was standing behind me and, as I was about to turn around to tell her that I might have called the wrong location, I was interrupted.
The restaurant manager, Christopher Troutman, who had overheard the discussion, walked over and said the most beautiful words I've ever heard: "I'm sorry for your inconvenience, let me see what I can do to assist."
He left, and, when he came back three minutes later, he said there were no tables available. As my heart pounded faster, he said, "We do however have two seats open at the bar and, because of your troubles, your first round of drinks are on us as well as your appetizer."
My wife was looking exquisite and smiling for the first time that evening. I was not sure if it was the free drinks or the appetizer, but I didn't bother to ask. I was just glad she was smiling.
The manager said, "Follow me." I took my wife's hand, and we walked to the bar. He introduced us to the bartender, Brian, who created an intimate setting for us and took our drink orders. Minutes later the appetizer appeared.
By then, three other members of the wait staff had asked if we needed anything. Half way through our appetizer, Christopher re-appeared and said we would be welcome to take a booth that would soon become available. By then, we had forgotten we were at the bar -- and I think my wife had forgotten she was angry with me.
Meanwhile, the entertaining Brian suggested that the treatment we were getting meant the manager had either "screwed up royally" or my wife and I were special people. We went with the latter and joked about it. Brian proceeded to take our salad and entrée orders. As we started eating our salads, the manager asked if we would like to take the booth.
I said we were having a great time at the bar and would hate to leave Brian. But he insisted jokingly that we enjoy the booth. There, were met by two other staff members, who seated us and brought our salads from the bar to our perfectly lit booth.
Minutes later our entrées arrived on steaming hot plates. I had the filet mignon and my wife had the salmon. Throughout the meal, someone stopped by to check up on us every 10 minutes or so. Remarkably, each time it seems as if it was a different person.
That evening I could not find words to describe the impact that Ruth's Chris had on "our moment," which is how I describe the three and a half hours we spent there. After we left the restaurant, we felt ordinary. But inside we were treated like royalty.
Interestingly, my wife and I have never talked about our meal. The food, as great as it was, was secondary. We talked about the manager Christopher, the bartender Brian and everyone else who made that night one of the most important in our lives. On Sunday, I told a neighbor about our evening. His response was: "So what, you think you're special? They treat everybody that way."
That's when I realized I had to buy the stock.
At the time of publication, the author was long RUTH and held no position in any of the other stocks mentioned
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.