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“I was running around the world for 25 years opening restaurants for Ruth’s Chris Steak House,” says Chef Miguel Martinez. “They have over 100 restaurants all over the globe. Each time, you have to organize 50-60 trainers. It’s one on one. Puerto Rico, Mexico, all over the States. With Ruth’s Chris everything - and everyone - has to be perfect from opening day. It can eat up your whole life. I realized my family was growing up and I was missing it, and they were missing a father.”

Chef Miguel is making a ceviche salad as he speaks. We’re at his downtown health/sandwich place at 7th and C (1048 7th Avenue, at C Street, 619-696-1466). This is well after the 11-2 midday office rush, so things are quiet. I came in for late lunch snack just because it was near the 5th Avenue trolley stop.

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So here’s this guy who has been involved with top restaurants, even the original Top Chef show he says, now running this busy but modest place you wouldn’t expect to find a Ruth’s Chris chef operating in.

I ordered a croissant with ham and egg and tomato in it, plus a small fruit salad, and a coffee, from his son, uh, Miguel. That’s his grandson’s name too.

Deal? You’d better believe it. I paid $5.40 all in, and couldn’t finish. Not because it wasn’t good and fresh, but because there’s so much of it. Most items like chicken sandwiches run to $5. Breakfast wraps are $4. And just like Jugos de la Fuente, which was here before him, he does plenty of juices, from wheatgrass to carrot, apple to beets, starting at $3.

Right now he’s finishing off the ceviche. “The biggest change is we’ve gone local and seasonal with our vegetables. I can keep tabs on the costs because I’m the chef and my family helps run it day to day. Three generations! My son Miguel is 29 and I have three other kids plus four grandkids who’ll all help out when they can. Now my grandkids come in after school at 3:00 and I get to spend time with them. We could never do that before. I was a singer/guitarist before I got married at 17. Now I can share that with my family again too. I miss Ruth’s but I wouldn’t change this for anything.”

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I settle in to try and beat this croissant, and enjoy watching - and feeling - the red trolleys rumbling by outside.

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Comments

Ian Pike Aug. 22, 2013 @ 8:15 p.m.

Good story of the man behind the idea, Bedford. Kind of an amazing decision, but one that I think any smart chef makes as the years start to wear on him. The work is just too damn hard and soul-crushing to spend an entire life in the kitchen. Not if the chefs in question have to do any actual work, anyways!

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Ed Bedford Aug. 28, 2013 @ 4:47 p.m.

Yes, he looks like a man who knows he made the right decision. I mean, is there a more stressful job than cheffing?

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