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Friday, November 22, 2013

Who is the REAL Jeff Ruby? (Part I)

Jeff Ruby with Ryan Gosling at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse. Gosling called Ruby "The Godfather of Cincinnati."
Say the name Jeff Ruby and images of The Godfather, upscale dining, unfiltered commentary and one big, damn bus come to mind. For those who know the real Jeff Ruby, they'd tell you he's the most generous man they know.

I met Jeff Ruby in his corporate office a year ago. It was supposed to be a 30-minute interview about how he had fully integrated Twitter into his life. 12,000 Twitter followers, an elaborate 65-birthday bash at Duke energy and hundreds of texts and calls later, Jeff Ruby has entrenched himself into Twitter's must-follow list and someone I can call a friend.

When people ask me how Ruby really is, I tell them he's the most understood man in Greater Cincinnati. His life, which is detailed in an upcoming autobiography, is both tragic, intriguing and inspriring and will go a long way into describing how he is the way he is now.

He should be dead. He should be a high school drop out. He could have used a litany of excuses to live an otherwise ordinary life. He didn't and now he's written a book about his extraordinary life.

All of the proceeds of the book will go towards his foundation, which has a mission to helping kids in need. 

Fort Thomas resident, Cris Collinsworth, who wrote the forward for Ruby's book, Not Counting Tomorrow, The Remarkable Life of Jeff Ruby, said he was mad the book wasn't given another title that was in contention, Runaway Success, which is an ode to Ruby's decision to run away from home when he was 15.

In celebration of the release of his book, FortThomasMatters will be running the series of articles entitled The REAL Jeff Ruby to get a flavor of what the most understood man in Cincinnati is all about. When we first published this series, we were getting around 25,000 visitors a month. Now welcomes over 75,000 visitors every month. For our new readers, it's time to get to know the REAL Jeff Ruby.

Here's part I:

The REAL Jeff Ruby (Part I)

Jeff Ruby "Tweeting" from his @TheRealJeffRuby Account in offices above Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse on 7th and Walnut. During our 2 hour meeting in his office, this was the most common scene during the interview.

Hall of Fame Cincinnati Reds announcer, Marty Brennaman, said that Cincinnati icon and restaurateur Jeff Ruby was "spit out of the mouth of New Jersey."  

"I actually take that as a compliment and sign of respect," Ruby said as he jostled an unlit Jeff-Ruby-label cigar between his fingers which also boast a University of Kentucky National Championship ring and a diamond-laden "R" pinky ring.

@TheRealJeffRuby is Ruby's Twitter handle, which he uses almost as often as people turn out at his highly-rated Zagat steak restaurants in Cincinnati, Louisville and at Belterra Casino. Odds are if you are trying to contact Ruby, the best way is through his Twitter account.

I had planned on interviewing Ruby over the phone and blocked off 15 minutes on a Wednesday. I was hoping I might be able to keep him on the phone for at least 30 minutes to get all the questions I had prepared for him.

I happened to tweet at Ruby, who has been on Twitter since April (2012), that I was looking forward to our interview. Ruby, who is constantly interacting with his followers, tweeted back that he'd like to "talk eye to eye instead."

After talking with him for what ended up being 4 hours and learning more about him and his life, the fact that he took the time to engage a know-nothing, pseudo-journalist didn't surprise me in the slightest. In fact, looking back on it, if I were to interview him on the phone, I don't think I would have gotten much out of it.

You see, Ruby has a way of telling stories. A unique way of communicating which simply wouldn't have translated well over the phone. He may start a story and not get to its punchline for 10 minutes. All the while, you find yourself wondering how it all fits together. But it always does. And by the time the story is concluded, you learn a lot about how Ruby got to where he is and you understand why the anecdote, chock full of "Jerseyisms" took all the twists that it did. That's how Ruby's life was and still is today. A jumbled thought process that just seems to work.

Besides, if I interviewed him on the phone, I wouldn't have gotten to see his custom made, Cadillac Escalade desk.

I remember back to my Junior Prom at Highlands in 2000. It was at The Newport Syndicate. My group of friends and I did it big. Stretch limo. Tuxes. Nice restaurant before hand. We thought we were big time. One of the members of our crew was former HHS and University of Cincinnati Quarterback Gino Guidugli.

Gino didn't join us that night. And it wasn't because he didn't think it was uncool to pile 24 teenagers into a stretch limo made for 12.

Gino was taking a girl from another school to our prom and like any 17-year old boy right before the prom, we were much more interested in how our nights were going to turn out. Then Gino showed up in a bright yellow Hummer with his date from another school.
It was Jeff Ruby's.

I remember thinking how cool it was that Jeff Ruby trusted Gino Guidugli. He must have had a great relationship with him to allow him to take his expensive car to prom.
Couple that memory with seeing Ruby and current Highlands students go back and forth on Twitter and my interest was piqued. I had wondered why a successful restaurateur like Jeff Ruby would take the time to mentor kids and provide leadership to those who are seeking it on Twitter.

To find those answers, you have to understand how Ruby grew up. The people that looked after him while he was in his formative years would provide clues to his generosity now. If you say "Jeff Ruby" you probably  conjure up a caricature of who he really is: Flashy. Restaurateur. Mafia. Steaks. Outspoken. OJ Simpson. Drew Peterson. Politics.

Come to Fort Thomas Matters Friday as The Real Jeff Ruby Series Continues. We'll explore his childhood, teenage years, his first "restaurant" and why he goes out of his way to make others feel important.


  1. He's a super nice guy. Well done Mark. 75,000? You guys have done an amazing job over the last year.

  2. I'm apart of the Ruby tribe at Highlands. He is the nicest man I know.