Don Assam

Don Assam General Manager, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Restaurant Row

Where were you born and raised? Honolulu. I graduated from Moanalua High School, first graduating class: 1975.

How did you get into the industry? Back in the ’70s in the summer, the choices were kinda limited. You either worked at Dole Cannery or went into the restaurant side. I started working as a dishwasher at the Pancake House and worked my way up to busboy and then to cooking.

Did you decide then it was the business for you? Not really. I worked in other fields, but I kept coming back to the business, kept working nights. I was in the car-rental business for 15 years, but eventually came full time to restaurants. So you were always a people-orientated person? Yes! Absolutely. For me it’s all about working with people.

The general public can be so difficult, don’t you think? No, never (laughs). People are just so different. You never know who you’re going to meet. You can have the sweetest-looking old lady in the world who is incredibly mean, and you can have a big, strong, mean-looking guy who could be the kindest person around. You can’t judge people by how they first appear.

When people come to Ruth’s Chris they have a really high expectation of their evening. Is that stressful for you and your team? No, not stressful, but it’s different from other fine-dining restaurants. Since 1965 we’ve been executing the same kind of menu. Other restaurants may create one dish as a special for the night. Our “wow” factor is making our known dishes consistently special night after night. People expect that from us, and that consistent experience is what we deliver night after night.

Where do you like to eat when you’re done working? Oh, you don’t even want to know. (Laughs) Anything that’s on the late-night value menu! Hmmm … kidding, right? No, serious (laughs). Late-night fast food is a form of comfort food … And I love mom-and-pop restaurants, especially the oxtail soup from Asahi Grill.

Do you cook at home? Not too much. I enjoy cooking, but it’s more of a time issue nowadays. Not too much time to spend cooking at home.

What’s always in your fridge? Beer, water, milk and kim chee.

With whom would you most like to have dinner at Ruth’s Chris? The Virgo group.

OK. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who doesn’t know who they are … We’re a group who met back in the old days when we realized that many of us in the industry are Virgo (born Aug. 23-Sept. 22). We’ve been celebrating together as a group for 27 years, and I hold the people who come to our celebrations very special in my heart. Back in the ’70s we had, at times, 75 people meet up once a year. Today there are three of us who’ve made all 27 years in a row. It would really be something to have the Virgo group at Ruth’s Chris!