Inside the Home of Ruth's Chris Steak House Owner Marsha Brown
With a kitchen to rival her restaurant's equipment and intricate details around every corner, Brown's Bryn Mawr estate has enough Southern charm to make the Main Line feel like her New Orleans hometown.
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Marsha Brown will always remember the first time her house spoke to her. Its message was hidden beneath the layers of dark paint that covered the original woodwork above an alcove in the foyer. Carved deeply into the wood was this passage from “The Rubáiyát” by 12th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyám:
Ah, fill the Cup: what boots it to repeat / How Time is slipping underneath our Feet / Unborn To-morrow, and dead yesterday / Why fret about them if To-day be sweet!
Fittingly, Brown’s nickname for her two-acre Bryn Mawr estate is “Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler,” a popular phrase that defines the optimistic philosophy of her native New Orleans. “It means, ‘Let the Good Times Roll,’ and it seemed more than coincidental that this poem, which may have been here for more than 100 years, expresses the same sentiment,” she says. “To me, both are reminders to live life to the fullest every day.”
And Brown has certainly done that. The former banking exec now owns three Ruth’s Chris Steak House locations in Center City, King of Prussia and Long Island, N.Y., along with an eponymous Creole restaurant in New Hope. For her, the good times began in 1992, as soon as she began to restore the Main Line property, which she’d purchased from Comcast Spectacor chairman and Philadelphia Flyers founder Ed Snider. Made of stone, stucco and timber, the two-story, five-bedroom home was designed by renowned Philadelphia architect Charles Barton Keen for chemical entrepreneur F. King Wainwright. Keen’s other projects included the Willows in Radnor, Greystone Hall in West Chester, and the clubhouse for the Aronimink Golf Club. His best-known project outside the area is the Winston-Salem, N.C., estate built for the R.J. Reynolds family. It’s now a museum of American art.
Bryn Mawr is a long way from Brown’s Louisiana roots. Growing up in one half of a double shotgun house, she and her mother would take two buses and a streetcar to the Crescent City’s famed Garden District, with its magnificent 19th-century mansions and lush landscaping. “I knew I wanted to live in one of those homes,” says Brown. “My mother told me that, if I really wanted it, I could make it happen.”
When her chosen career brought her north 25 years ago, Brown figured she’d have to wait until she retired to live that way—that is, until she found herself on the Main Line during a restaurant site-scouting visit to Philadelphia. What struck her were the similarities to the Garden District. “Driving through little town after little town, with beautifully landscaped estates and gorgeous homes, reminded me of the New Orleans neighborhoods with their mansions,” she says. “I knew right away that I wanted to live here.”
Brown likens the first days of her home’s restoration to a TV sitcom. “I was living out of—and tripping over—moving boxes all over the place. There were no beds anywhere, just mattresses on the bedroom floors,” she recalls. “I had talked my painters into literally moving in for six months because I knew that stripping off the layers that hid the beautiful original woodwork and hardware was going to be such a massive job.”