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Ruth's Chris Steak House to open in Grande Dunes

Ruth's Chris Steak House, in the works for more than a year, will serve its first "sizzling" steak at Grande Dunes in February.

The chain's classy, casual feel will set the tone as the main piece of the Marina Village, which will become a mix of shops and condominiums along the Intracoastal Waterway.

On his regular trips to Myrtle Beach, developer Rick Howard of Lake Norman, N.C., noticed something was missing: a high-end, brand-name restaurant that visitors like himself would recognize.

"It's the right restaurant, at the right place, at the right time," said Howard, CEO of Carolina Sizzle, the franchisee that will run the restaurant. "It fits this environment -

casual, fine-dining experience."

The 9,500-square-foot restaurant, where the average diner spends about $65, is the latest move toward a more upscale beach, a trend sparked by Grande Dunes that is reshaping the Grand Strand as a destination where the rich have a place to play.

New and redeveloped hotels are including items such as spas that discerning travelers desire. And higher-end restaurants such as Ruth's Chris are discovering the area, said Nicole Aiello, spokeswoman for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

"The extra hotels that we've been getting with luxury amenities shows that Myrtle Beach is growing up," she said.

The steak house, with several locations in the works for the Carolinas, will be the main piece of the Marina Village. Shops will line the bottom level, with condominiums on top - a live-shop trend catching on along the Grand Strand with developments such as Market Common on the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The stores at Grande Dunes will include dress, shoe and wine shops, though specific tenants haven't been lined up.

Ruth's Chris will add credibility to out-of-towners unfamiliar with the Grande Dunes name, said Doug Wendel, president of Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., which is developing the 2,200-acre Grande Dunes.

"It's kind of the cherry on the sundae," he said. "We have been very patient in identifying and attracting that restaurant."

Ruth's Chris will start as a dinner-only restaurant with 75 employees.

South Carolina's first Ruth's Chris, in Columbia, is scheduled to open later this year. The chain is on track to have seven restaurants in the Carolinas, including one to open in downtown Charleston in spring 2008. In North Carolina, Ruth's Chris has locations in Cary, Greensboro and two in Charlotte.

About Ruth's Chris Steak House

Where | Marina Village at Grande Dunes

When | Planned opening in February

Size | 9,500 square feet

Employees | 75 in Myrtle Beach

Founded | 1965. Ruth Fertel, needing money to send her two children to college, mortgaged her home to purchase the "Chris Steak House" in New Orleans.

Locations | 103 worldwide; 55 percent are franchises

Signature | "Sizzling" steaks

Average Bill | $65