A man in a gray pinstripe suit, crisp white shirt and red-and-white striped tie gets on an elevator and a woman says hello. He replies, "Hello, it's me." Then he sings a few bars of the Todd Rundgren hit from 1973. He knows the words. Better yet, he knows the notes and hits them like piano keys.

Jeff Ruby sings on elevators.

He also calls people and says, "Hey, babe," and makes it sound natural. Even in Cincinnati.

He can put on a fedora and hold a cigar the size of the Hindenburg and pull it off with GQ style. Some people work too hard to be cool; Ruby makes it look easy.

"I'm sensitive, emotional, mercurial," he says. But underneath he can also be as tough as a $2 t-bone. He survived a near-fatal auto accident in 1987 that left him in a coma. But just as remarkable, he's a very successful survivor in a business that is a car wreck for six of every 10 restaurateurs who print a menu and light a stove.

His Big Success

His big success is his three children: Britney Ruby Miller, Brandon Ruby and Dillon Ruby. All three work in the family business and share his passion for food and perfection. All three clearly love and admire their dad. It's obvious they enjoy working with him as much as they enjoy pushing his buttons.

"I can't say enough good things about it," says Britney. She's the oldest and is guest services and development director for Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment, which has four restaurants in Cincinnati, one in Louisville and one at Belterra Casino in Florence, Ind. "We both believe in the same things "” like how we treat our guests, how we treat our employees. We react the same way because we both have the same passion."

"Family and business, it all meshes together," says Brandon, manager of Ruby's first landmark steakhouse, The Precinct. He adds with a laugh, "He's actually fun to work for when he's in a good mood."

That draws a chin-down, furrowed brow, Dad/boss-stare from Ruby. "See the stuff I have to put up with?" he says with mock irritation.

"I love to work with him," says youngest son Dillon, a waiter at Carlo & Johnny in Montgomery. "He always goes out of his way to teach us."

No Free Pass

The education begins with Jeff Ruby 101: They start like he did: waiting tables, busing plates of half-eaten food and wadded napkins and parking cars. "When I was fresh out of college, I was all ready to start my career," says Britney. "But he said, "¢No, you start at the steakhouse as a server.' I did that for five years. That's how I learned how the company works. It was like "Undercover Boss," but not undercover."

Being the boss's daughter was no free pass, she says. "If anything, you have a target on your back."

She and her brothers also learned to take orders from guests and their father. According to local legend, taking orders from Ruby can be like taking live fire on a Marine Corps obstacle course.

Ruby says he has mellowed. To celebrate his 64th birthday on April 19, his kids and a few employees brought him a candle-lit carrot cake to his boardroom on Walnut Street. He offered one of his Ruby-isms: "Maybe like a good wine, you settle a bit as you age. You're either like a wine or a cheese. You get better or you get moldy."

Mellowed, yes, but not too much. "If I wasn't crazy, I would go insane," he says later.

The Chairman

Britney points to a framed picture on the wall of her father, with the caption: "The Chairman "”Successfully flipping out for more than 30 years."

"There's a reason we call him the chairman," she says.

"I was in this meeting with a developer who wants me to be an anchor in a $30 million project," Ruby explains, "and this chair I was sitting in had a bad wheel like forever. You'd think someone would notice it and fix it. But no. So I sit down and the chair collapses. So, yeah, I threw it over there," he says waving toward a bookcase. "I threw the freaking chair." And became "the chairman."

Britney says, "We're not going out to a restaurant for his birthday. He's coming over to grill out. Because when we go to a restaurant something always goes wrong."

Such as the time he told the manager of a famous Las Vegas steakhouse about all the things he was doing wrong, Brandon recalls. Such as the time he showed up at a top local restaurant and walked out because the manager was wearing sneakers and "looked like a slob," Britney recalls.

Price of Perfection

"When he comes in to Carlo & Johnny, I'm the only one who will serve him," says Dillon.

But that is the price of perfection, Ruby says.

"No eyes see like the eyes of the owner," he says. "One time I arrived at The Precinct and this lady met me in the parking lot. I thought, "¢Oh, no, here it comes, something is wrong.' But she said everything was perfect. Absolutely perfect. And I told her, "¢Now I'm going in to have dinner, and I know something will be wrong. I've never had a perfect meal in one of my own restaurants. But if I was easy to please, you wouldn't have had a perfect meal tonight."

Call him difficult, demanding, passionate or perfectionist. That's the attitude that made the Jeff Ruby brand a nationally known success and turned his restaurants into cherished local landmarks. Among its many awards and five-star reviews, The Precinct was named one of the top 10 steakhouses in the country this year, putting Cincinnati in the same class with Dallas, Chicago, New Orleans and Beverly Hills. Ask anyone in Cincinnati: Nobody does a steak better. And it's not just the food.

"Dad always tells us people don't go to a restaurant when they get hungry. If they're hungry, they go to their refrigerator. They go to a restaurant to be entertained," says Britney.

Celebrity Magnets

Ruby is the innovator of culinary entertainment. His restaurants, such as The Precinct, Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse and The Waterfront, now under renovation for a re-opening, became celebrity magnets. The list goes back to Pete Rose and Johnny Bench, through Cris Collinsworth and Rudy Giuliani, past George W. Bush to Joey Votto and the latest A-List politicians, performers, sports stars, TV broadcasters.

But Ruby is even more famous for the celebrity he refused to serve: O.J. Simpson.

When his former friend and drinking buddy O.J. showed up at Jeff Ruby's in Louisville in 2007 after his circus-trial acquittal on murder charges, Ruby quietly met him at the door with four words: "I'm not serving you." O.J. replied, "I understand," gathered his party and left. But the media went nuts. And Ruby still hears about it.

Since We Asked

The New Jersey kid who played linebacker in high school still likes to stir the pot. Such as his take on city subsidies for The Banks:

"A lot of people tell me "¢You worked your way up from nothing, you have supported this community, you paid all those taxes, you created all those jobs, you kept the entertainment nightlife alive downtown. And now with all that money you've paid in taxes, they are giving it to Ruth's Chris Steak House to compete with you.' They tell me that should really p--- me off."

He says it doesn't. But adds, "Not too many downtown restaurants are doing very well." In spite of millions in city loans and giveaways to restaurants at The Banks and around Fountain Square, he says, "I don't know how that's going to work out. You can only eat at one restaurant a night. Ruth's Chris makes no sense at all. The Banks is disconnected from downtown.

"I love competition. I'm looking forward to it. It's a great cure for complacency. But that's what's wrong with government," he says. "They don't have any competition."

Restaurants come and go. Some will start with lines at the door and wind up with boards on the windows. The city has been so profligate with taxpayer money, failure is probably baked in the cake. But Jeff Ruby and his sons and daughter will still be here.

"Dad has changed a lot," says Britney. "He still works hard, but he's more healthy about it now."

"I don't belong to a country club," he says. "I don't go on vacations."

"You went to the Final Four," one of the kids points out.

"I was checking out restaurants." he replies. "I live for my kids, for my employees, for my customers and, a distant fourth, my community. And none of them are on a beach in Hawaii."

Ruby picks up his trademark private label cigar, straightens his tie and gets on the elevator to go downstairs to his restaurant, Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse. He loves his kids, he says, including the ones who were not his own, such as Nick Urlage, who lost his dad when he was a kid. Urlage, now 21, works at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse in Louisville.

They Found the Passion

Perhaps Ruby's greatest success is also one of the hardest in a family business. He is giving his children space to flourish by stepping back from the spotlight, gradually. "You can't make your kids have a passion," he says. "I didn't pressure them to go into this business, but they really found it. The passion."

"I feel safe with Brandon at The Precinct. I feel safe with Britney here in the corporate office. I feel safe with Dillon doing what he's doing."

As the birthday candles are lit, Brandon jokes to the staff, "This is birthday 64, so next year he hits 65 and he won't be here anymore."

Ruby replies, "I will either be dead or on your ass."

Brandon pretends to think about it then says, "Given a choice, I hope you are on my ass."

It's music to a father's ears. No wonder Jeff Ruby sings on elevators. - 

The Waterfront

No place has been the backdrop for more memorable evenings in Cincinnati than The Waterfront. Celebrity sightings, first dates, engagements, wedding parties, graduations, anniversaries"¢

So when The Waterfront's floating platform broke loose and started drifting downriver in March, 2011, Cincinnatians saw their memories floating away too. One regular Waterfront guest did something about it.

Dr. Steven Gay, a resident at University of Cincinnati Hospital, went straight to Jeff Ruby headquarters with a request last September. He asked if he could take his now-fiancé, Kristen Hill, to have dinner in the parking lot, to propose to her "at" the restaurant where they had their first date.

"It was such a special place for us," he said. "I just wanted to set up a picnic table."

But Britney Ruby Miller took charge.

Filet mignon catered by Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse was served on a white tablecloth, with wine and a champagne toast. Flowers, candles, everything. "We had menus with our names on them. We were served by Britney and her husband (former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker) Caleb Miller.

"They went above and beyond. And Kristen said yes, so it all worked out," says Gay.

Britney says, "We've had so many people asking about The Waterfront. We are definitely bringing it back because it is so important to this community."

  "The Father I Never Had"

When he was 5 years old, Nick Urlage lost his father to cancer. His mother remarried, and a few years later, his stepfather died. As a sophomore playing football for Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, he met his teammate Dillon's dad, Jeff Ruby.

He became "the father I never had," Urlage says. When Urlage was injured in a football game, Ruby took him to the doctor. Not just any doctor. He took him to Dr. Angelo Colosimo, team doctor for the Bengals. "I was pretty impressed. He picked me up in his Ferrari. Before that, I never really knew who Jeff Ruby was, or how many people knew and respected him."

During high school, Urlage worked at The Waterfront. Now 21, he plans to enroll in college to study business management. Meanwhile, he works as a prep cook and a food runner (server) at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse in Louisville, where people know him as Jeff Ruby's "son."

"What Jeff Ruby is to me now is my father. He makes me proud of who I am. He tells me how great I am. Every dad should do that. But it's sad that so many guys I know never hear it."

He calls Ruby "the best boss I ever had." He says the boss can be tough, and sometimes says the craziest stuff. "But he's a motivator. When he visits, he gets everybody pumped up."

Offhand, Urlage can name five or six other young men "” he calls them "cousins" "” who were unofficially adopted by Ruby and Ruby's family like
he was.

"All these guys look up to him. All I can say is "¢God bless his family.' They have been awesome to me. They treat me like
a brother."