Ruth West, founder of Ruthie’s restaurant, is dead at 76

The Brooklyn Paper

Ruth West, known as much for her delicious pineapple layer cake and barbecued ribs as for her love of Fort Greene and the exacting standards she upheld at her two “Ruthie’s” restaurants, has died from pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

West opened her popular restaurant on DeKalb Avenue in 1997 after 30 years in the food industry. Her soul food dishes, like fried chicken and smothered pork chops bore the influence of her southern roots in Bayboro, N.C., a coastal town with a population of less than 1,000.

West moved to New York in 1954 and, after a brief stay in Harlem, settled in Fort Greene. She opened her first restaurant in 1967.

West’s first Ruthie’s, which remains between Ashland and Rockwell places, gained a devout following, and it — along with the other location on Myrtle Avenue between Classon Avenue and Emerson Place — is often pointed to as a critical player in the revitalization of the area.

West’s son-in-law Howard Foster, who works at Ruthie’s, said that his hard-working mother-in-law made sure the kitchen remained at the top of its game.

“She was like Chef Ramsay, the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ guy,” said Foster. “When it came to the restaurant, she didn’t play. But she always made sure to say ‘It’s nothing personal.’”

West still manned the stoves until her battle with cancer overcame her. She died on Nov. 12.

Aside from her food, West is remembered for her dedication to the Friendship Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where she served as a trustee for many years.

West’s generosity went beyond big servings. She also had an ongoing tradition of giving leftover food to the homeless, who came by at closing time. A note posted this week at the Myrtle Avenue location by one such customer reads, “Thank you, from someone who is homeless.”

West is survived by six children, 22 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Her son John will be taking over the Myrtle Avenue location, and her daughter, Yanya, will be in charge of the DeKalb location.

Foster promised: “The food will taste exactly the same.”

Reader Feedback

Andy from Crown Heights says:
R.I.P.
I'll never forget the first time I tried Ruthie's famous, home-made sweet crab stew or her cheese and parsnip pastry puffs. She was a genius in the kitchen and no one has done a better take on thai/new england fusion cooking since she was behind the stove.
Hope your happy in that big kitchen in the sky Ruth!
Nov. 20, 2009, 3:37 am
Deborah Monroe says:
I thank every one who had the chance to meet this phenomenal woman. For me there is no one word that best describes my mother. She was my hero and my good friend. The last three weeks I spent with her are ones that I cherish for life. Towards her last days she talked about going back to work, she missed her customers. We talked about the furture of Ruthies, I owe it to her to make her dream come true to open a Ruthies here in Charlotte, NC. My mother has touched many and her spirit lives within us. Thank you again for your condolences and your continued support to her restaurants on Myrtle and Dekalb.

Deborah Monroe
Nov. 22, 2009, 2:01 pm
Valerie from Bed Stuy says:
Ms Ruthie will truly be missed. Her catfish is the best, her restaurant the best in Brooklyn.
March 9, 2010, 11:13 pm
sofia says:
Hi, i am the granddaughter of Ruth West. I lived with my grandma since i was born.And i thank all of you for coming to my grandmas restauraunt.Most of you probably have seen me come to the restauraunt and go to the kitchen.I thank all of you for coming to my grandmas restauraunt for her famous food.:) :)

R.I.P GRANDMA I LOVE YOU XOXOXOXOX

April 22, 2011, 5:26 pm
MELODY from CARNASIE says:
hi john my name is melody i spoke to your sis in NC that work for spiegel we could not talk due to the job she told me to stop by the resturant and get her number afer you confirm with her can you please call me at 9177630710 with her number or pass my number on to her thank you God BLESS
June 12, 2012, 11:11 pm
Sofia says:
R.I.P grandma
Jan. 6, 7:27 pm
Deborah Monroe says:
In honor of my Mother "Ruth", I open a mobile Ruthie's. Ruthie's of Charlotte. I'm sure my Mother is smiling from heaven. Watching me serve up her recipes. It's with love and pride that that I continue her legacy.
Feb. 17, 12:58 am

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