Yes, yes. This is a Louisiana blog. And while we ramble all over the place and talk about things like prairie chickens in Kansas or some guy’s junk in New York or Dutch dudes on trial for saying mean things about Muslims, we try to chiefly discuss topics of interest to the majority of our readers who reside – literally or spiritually – in the Bayou State.
So why do we give a damn who’s running for the U.S. Senate out of Florida? Outside of the understandable swooning when somebody like Mario Rubio comes along, that is.
Who the heck is Craig Miller?
He’s this guy…
It was the steakhouse that Ruth built, a New Orleans institution that sizzled over the past four decades not just as a tourist favorite but also as a popular hangout for local politicians and the city’s movers and shakers.
But on Aug. 31, not long after the levees burst in New Orleans, the top executives of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse gathered here in the lobby of the Orlando Embassy Suites for an hourlong, soul-searching meeting.
“It was probably one of the toughest decisions that I ever had to make: to tell my people that we are not going back,” said Craig Miller, the veteran chief executive of Ruth’s Chris.
Miller’s “tough decision” came pretty much at the same time the Coast Guard was plucking people off rooftops blocks away from the first restaurant Ruth Fertel built on Broad Street. And as a result of his “tough decision,” a great New Orleans brand is now a restaurant company based in…Orlando. That world-famous culinary mecca. Miller was so wrenched by the decision that it took all of an hour to make it.
Actually, that’s crap. He was plotting to pull Ruth’s Chris out of the New Orleans area even before the storm hit. Katrina was a pretext, that’s all.
Hours before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Miller and Geoffrey Stiles, the company’s chief operating officer, flew with their spouses to Orlando, where each also owns a home. Eventually they established a makeshift communications center in Miller’s condominium and contacted their senior management team, asking them to come to Orlando to take on specified tasks.
With temporary office space secured in Orlando, the company hired brokers to scout for a more permanent home. After negotiating tax incentives from Seminole County economic development officials and seeking approval from their board, by Sept. 2 they had the keys to a fully furnished 21,000-square-foot corporate office and training center. This week, they were putting up post-it notes with managers’ names on the doors.
When he moved the chain out of the Big Easy – their headquarters was actually in Metairie; it’s not like the place was under six feet of water, though their building did have some pretty bad roof damage – the Fertel family was apoplectic. “My mother would never have done that,” Ruth’s son Randy, who runs the family’s charitable foundation, was quoted as saying. And others in the New Orleans restaurant community, who didn’t leave, panned the move as well.
“When they give you a start, you kind of owe it to the city,” said Brad Brennan, a member the family that owns Brennan’s Restaurant and Commander’s Palace, a small chain with all three of its restaurants in New Orleans. Brennan vows to return as soon as he can. “Payback is staying your ground,” he said, “and employing the people that want to remain there and want to be employed.”
Miller, of course, lasted about three more years as the CEO of the company he yanked out of its roots (and changed the name of as well), but in 2008 after the stock market did to Ruth’s Chris’ stock what Katrina did to New Orleans he got yanked himself. And promptly squealed like a stuck pig about it.
Naturally, a failed business executive would want to get into politics. So Miller launched a campaign in 2010 against Democrat Congresswoman Suzanne Kosmas. He spent $560,000 of his own money on that race and came in third in the GOP primary.
Now, Miller wants to run for the Senate.
“There’s no game changer in the race,” Miller told TheDC. “I’m a different candidate than the other people in the race. I’m not a career politician… I’m a business person.”
Florida State Senate President Mike Haridopolos, State Rep. Adam Hasner and former Charlie Crist-appointed U.S. Senator George LeMieux are the other Republicans in the field so far. The Democrat is the incumbent Bill Nelson, who is ripe for the picking in a state where the Dems are imploding quickly.
Don’t know much about any of the other GOP challengers. They’re all better than Miller. He’s a soulless bastard who trashed a great Louisiana brand, and as it turned out he wasn’t such a smart numbers guy after all.