Ralph J. Giardina had four great loves: his family, a great steak dinner, fast horses and relaxing with his friends at the Chateau Golf & Country Club in Kenner.
Giardina, who was 84 when he died Sept. 4, will be memorialized by family members and friends at two of his favorite places Friday afternoon.
Half of his ashes will be spread at the finish line at the Fair Grounds at 1 p.m., and the other half will be spread shortly thereafter at the seventh hole at Chateau Golf & Country Club, close to the clubhouse where he enjoyed playing cards and socializing with his buddies toward the end of a well-lived life.
Although Giardina, a former banker, is perhaps best known for his long involvement as an executive with the Ruth’s Chris Steak House chain, he also was an avid horseman who had an interest in Tudor Tambourine, winner of the 1977 New Orleans Handicap.
It was Giardina’s oft-expressed wish to have his ashes scattered at perhaps his two favorite places. His daughter Julie Shaffer said the fact his request will be honored would have greatly pleased her father.
“He owned and trained horses during his life,” said Shaffer, one of Giardina’s five children. “We always said that they were his first love.
“I don’t know how many times he told us that (the scattering of his ashes at the track) was what he wanted. I wondered if anyone else had ever done that. I assumed that maybe it had been done before, but I didn’t know for sure. We were wondering what (Fair Grounds officials) would say when we asked, but everyone there knew him and loved him. They had no problem with it. We’re so excited it’s going to work out so we don’t have to sneak onto the track to do it.”
Giardina, who also was a big fan of Tulane University’s sports teams and the New Orleans Saints, first met Ruth’s Chris founder Ruth Fertel on a banking matter, and she invited him to become part of the company, which began with a single location on North Broad Street in 1965. He was instrumental in the franchising of other restaurants bearing the Ruth’s Chris brand; the chain now has about 95 locations nationally and internationally.
“He was so good at (helping the business grow) that he eventually worked himself up to vice president,” Shaffer said. “There might have been six Ruth’s Chris franchises when he started — no more than that, I’m sure — and it was his idea to go big, to try really to put the company out there. He enlisted the help of loyal customers, people who really loved Ruth’s Chris, to open new franchises.
“It really was a family-type thing. I guess I was about 5 when my dad started with Ruth’s Chris, and we traveled all over for the opening of new restaurants. It was a wonderful experience. We really enjoyed it. It was a huge part of his identity.
“I live in Virginia. Dad came to visit me there a few years ago, and we went to a Ruth’s Chris that was near my work. We walked in and he was, like, ‘Yep, I opened this one.’ The maître d’ had been there since my dad opened the restaurant, and they got a big kick out of seeing each other and talking about old times.
“He left a legacy, that’s for sure.”
Survivors include his wife, Linda Dunbar Giardina; two sons, Danny C. and David R. Giardina; three daughters, Debbie G. Brandt, Darlene G. Lusk and Shaffer; 10 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.