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Ruth’s cuts staff, shuffles management

HEATHROW Fla. The parent of the Ruth’s Chris Steak House chain said it has cut its support-center staff, agreed to sell and lease back the center, and accepted the resignations of several high-level executives, including the president of its Mitchell’s Seafood division.

No successor was named for Damon Liever, who also served as executive vice president of Ruth's Hospitality Group Inc.

Also exiting his post was senior vice president and chief development officer David L. Cattell, Ruth's Hospitality said in a statement. No successor was named for that role.

Simultaneously, the company said it has promoted Kevin Toomy to the post of senior vice president and chief operating officer of the company's Ruth's Chris brand. Toomy previously was the vice president of special projects for Ruth's Hospitality.

The high-end operator did not say how many positions it has eliminated in its corporate support facility. It estimated the savings at $2 million to $4 million per year, and noted that the reduction in costs follows previous measures that should generate additional annual savings of $8 million. The savings from the most recent round of cutbacks exclude $1.8 million in severance-related charges, the announcement said.

"Today's announcement is very difficult and disappointing for a dedicated group of people at Ruth's Hospitality Group," said Michael O'Donnell, chief executive officer and president of the company, and acting president of its flagship brand. "Unfortunately, unprecedented economic circumstances have forced our actions."

The announcement noted that the cutbacks in part reflect the chain's decision to curtail restaurant openings and shift to a "significantly reduced development outlook." It also cited "challenging trends" for the first nine months of fiscal 2008, and noted that conditions have deteriorated during October.

The sale and leaseback of the corporate support center in Heathrow, Fla., should generate $12 million, with the deal expected to close in late December.

Ruth's Hospitality Group has more than 145 restaurants under the Ruth's Chris, Mitchell's Fish Market, Mitchell's Steakhouse and Cameron's Steakhouse brands.

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