Ruth's Chris Steak House is coming to Charleston. It's just a matter of where it will be located, said Nancy Oswald, who with husband Mark bought the franchise rights to the Charleston market on Tuesday.

"We are looking forward to having a restaurant there as soon as we can," she said. "We are actively looking for potential sites."

The franchise purchase also included the existing Myrtle Beach restaurant. The Oswalds already own the other two Ruth's Chris restaurants in South Carolina -- in Columbia and Greenville -- as well as four in metro Atlanta and two in Alabama with business partners Jim and Phil Brooks.

Former Myrtle Beach franchisee Rick Howard had been looking at several sites in the Charleston area for about a year before deciding to sell the restaurant and concentrate on another development opportunity near Charlotte, Oswald said.

Howard said: "To know that the team I have built in Myrtle Beach is in the capable hands of a stable and larger Ruth's Chris franchise is particularly rewarding."

Oswald said she and her husband will build on the sites in Charleston that Howard considered by looking at other opportunities as well.

"Downtown (Charleston) would be our primary area of interest," she said. "Whenever we go to Greenville or Columbia, people always ask us, 'When are you coming to Charleston?' We are just thrilled."

Ruth's Hospitality Group chief executive Michael O'Donnell expressed confidence in the Oswalds because of their longtime ties to the company as they "introduce our brand to the Charleston market."

The Oswalds are restaurant veterans. A past chairwoman of the Georgia Restaurant Association, she serves as a franchise representative on the Ruth's Chris Steak House National Advertising Council and sits on the executive board of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. She has 30 years of restaurant marketing experience.

Mark Oswald started 35 years ago at the acclaimed Commander's Palace in New Orleans and worked at several restaurant ventures before joining the first Ruth's Chris in Atlanta in 1990. He then worked with the Brooks to expand the restaurant's presence in greater Atlanta.

Ruth's Chris got its start in 1965 when Ruth Fertel noticed a for-sale ad in the newspaper about a restaurant in New Orleans called Chris Steak House. She bought it.

In 1976, a kitchen fire destroyed the restaurant and she moved to another location and opened Ruth's Chris Steak House since her original contract precluded her from using the name Chris Steak House in a different location. That same year, the first franchise opened in Baton Rouge, La. It quickly expanded to other locations.

In 1999, Madison Dearborn, a private investment equity firm, acquired Ruth's Chris Steak House. In 2002, Fertel died of cancer. The company was first publicly traded in 2005. After Hurricane Katrina that same year, the home office moved to Orlando, Fla. There are now 130 restaurants around the world.

Reach Warren Wise at or 937-5524.