Steve Gatlin cuts meat at the Ruth's Chris Steak House booth at TASTE, a fundraiser for the Kidney Foundation, on Thursday, March 6, 2014, in Chattanooga. Guests were able to sample specialties of 20 local restaurants.

When planners of a new Embassy Suites in Chattanooga learned the city landed the Volkswagen plant in 2008, they sought a high-end eatery with domestic and international recognition for the hotel.

They wooed and landed a Ruth's Chris Steak House, which has tied for top honors among the brand's 81 franchised restaurants worldwide in 2015, officials said.

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Julie Carson eats a steak from Ruth's Chris Steak House during a Legacy Property Group business lunch meeting in 2013 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in East Brainerd.

"We liked the owners," said Byron Defoor of Defoor Brothers Development, which owns the East Brainerd hotel. "We felt they'd be good partners. It has helped us and paid off for them as well."

The Chattanooga Ruth's Chris restaurant tied with another franchised restaurant in Indianapolis for the top honors, according to John R. Crawford, vice president of franchise development and operations for the chain.

"We want to recognize the restaurants we believe execute our brand standard at the highest level," he said. "They certainly did that in 2015."

Nancy Oswald of Atlanta, who owns the restaurant off Shallowford Road with husband Mark, said there was previously a void in the Chattanooga market that was filled by the Ruth's Chris when it opened in 2013.

A number of people told them to go downtown to open the restaurant, but they liked the Hamilton Place area and what the Defoors were doing, she said.

"The numbers have proven us correct," Oswald said, whose company has 11 Ruth's Chris locations in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

Andrew Penland, general manager of the restaurant, said the sites were graded on everything from when patrons arrive to how they're treated to cleanliness, service, lighting and the bar, he said.

"It's a very thorough survey," Penland said.

Penland, who came from Nashville to run the Chattanooga restaurant, said he thinks training has made the difference in landing the award.

"It took me a while to realize we'd have to buckle down and train everybody," he said, noting Chattanooga didn't have a labor pool of fine-dining servers. But, Penland said, that fact made everyone more teachable.

"It seemed like a huge disadvantage, but in my opinion it was an advantage," he said.

Ken Defoor, also a principal in Defoor Brothers Development, said the Ruth's Chris is an asset to the hotel. The restaurant staff also handle the food service in the banquet room space, he said.

The hotel is part of the Waterside development the Defoors are working on in East Brainerd. Recently, an Atlanta company, Branch Properties, was included and Waterside is expected to see about $100 million in new apartments and retail space, including a grocery store.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.