- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Baton Rouge restaurateur and philanthropist T.J. Moran, who founded TJ Ribs and Ruffino’s and opened the area’s first Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchise, has died. He was 84.

Scott Miller, a family spokesman, confirmed Moran died early Monday.

Moran opened the first Ruth’s Chris Steak House franchise in 1976 in Prairieville and ultimately became the company’s largest franchisee with about a dozen locations. Ten years later, he founded TJ Ribs in Baton Rouge, which over the years grew into a favorite gathering spot for politicians and LSU athletic officials. He also operated the Ninfa’s franchise in Baton Rouge and was a founder of Ruffino’s.

Stan Harris, president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, worked for years with Moran opening restaurants in several areas including Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, Michigan and Florida.

“I spent the bulk of my career working alongside him,” Harris recalled. “We had a wonderful time together. We were great friends. He taught me so much … how to be good in business and how to put deals together. He was our vision guy. His gift was the skill of knowing how a customer looks at things. He was just a bright and very interesting guy.”

Harris said Moran had suffered with his health recnetly. “He had been in poor health for the last five to six months,” he said.

Harris said Moran sort of fell into the restaurant business. “He was from Illinois and when he got down South, he told us he missed the steaks he would get up North. After eating at Ruth’s Chris in New Orleans, he would beg Ruth (Fertel) to open a restaurant in Baton Rouge. Finally, she asked him, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ and he did.”

In recent years, Moran sold his restaurants, keeping only a small interest in the Baton Rouge-based Ruth’s Chris.

The Advocate (https://bit.ly/1c0Oy0F ) reports Moran, a native of Evanston, Illinois, had through his career varied business investments that also included appliance and furniture stores, auto dealerships, construction and real estate development, advertising agencies and radio stations.

After a battle with cancer, Moran became a champion of Mary Bird Perkins/Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center and had been a cancer survivor for more than 25 years. In 2011, he donated $1 million, then matched additional donations at a fundraiser.

He also was a founding director of the Dale Brown Foundation, which promotes educational opportunities for students from underprivileged backgrounds; and served on the boards of the Pennington Family Foundation, Girls & Boys Town and Baton Rouge River Center. Moran has helped the Boy Scouts of America - Istrouma Area Council, Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes, St. Jude Research Foundation and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. He was a charter member of the Karnvial Krewe de Louisiane.

“He liked the fact that he knew he had been blessed with great fortune in business and wanted to give back,” Harris said. “And he became iconic in Louisiana as a result.”

Moran is survived by five children. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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