Kimberly Lewis’s hospitality spirit came into the spotlight back in college at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Inspired by growing up with big family Sunday dinners at home to “start the week off right,” she hosted a holiday meal in 1997 for 15 or so friends who did not have a chance to return home to celebrate. The gathering was so well received that she kept them going as a tradition year after year.
Kimberly had long envisioned a career in middle school education, but was rerouted by a hosting turned serving role at a high-end Mexican restaurant in New York City. Foreshadowing alert: while serving margaritas, Lewis was told by a manager “you belong in a steak house” due to her attention to detail and expertise at holding people accountable.
Still with education leading the career forefront, she took a position teaching at Filmore Arts Middle School – the very one she attended in her youth. Kimberly taught for two years before making her way back to her hospitality career where she landed a position that would become the mainstay of her career at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
The teacher becomes the student
Lewis knew the Ruth’s Chris experience was special from the start when her General Manager explained how much she would learn working with the company. “I knew I was going to learn something every day,” said Kimberly. “To this day, I am still learning something new every day.” Her focus was learning wine and being a leader.
Now, 15 years into her tenure with Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Kimberly says, “If I felt like I was being complacent and bored, I would have moved on.. But I just have not lost interest.”
Kimberly gets excited about onboarding new team members, knowing they are the heart and soul of an excellent guest service experience. “I always start off by thanking them for choosing us,” said Lewis. “They picked us, and we picked them because we think that they’re best for this position.” From day one a mix of appreciation and accountability make her team thrive. While this role might not be what Kimberly envisioned early on, it certainly sounds like she still is a teacher of sorts, leading her successful restaurant team.
Her leadership skills expand beyond the restaurant walls. Unique to the Ruth’s Chris brand is a story that has always stood out to Lewis. Back in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans the hometown of the original Ruth’s Chris Steak House, founder (and namesake) Ruth Fertel knew her inventory of steaks would spoil at the restaurant before they could reopen from the storm damage so she fed them to first responders.
“Such a smart move,” said Kimberly. “Why not give those meals to the people that are rebuilding her city and then those same people came back over and over because of that one gesture.”
In 2020 with the COVID-19 crisis, Kimberly had her chance to bring that inspiration to life when the location prepared steaks for the local fire station, fire boat houses, soup kitchens and feeding the nursing staff at George Washington hospital before a brief closure.
Not limited to crisis response, Kimberly’s team has been supporting charity events throughout the area for years including Men Against Breast Cancer through golf tournaments and in restaurant fundraising events, and serving teachers and students throughout the D.C. school system buffet style Thanksgiving holiday lunches. She feels the company encourages employees to volunteer and participate; which made this sort of community engagement possible.
Kimberly enjoys her time off from the restaurant, often with a glass of one of her favorite wines – currently Napa Valley reds by Faust. “I really do value that time when I’m not here,” she said. “(But) I’m just as excited to come back to work.”