Ruffin Rodrigue, owner of Ruffino’s restaurant and a former LSU football player, died Tuesday night.
Ruffino’s released a statement Wednesday morning about Rodrigue’s passing: “Ruffino’s is saddened to announce that our owner and founder Ruffin Rodrigue Jr. passed away unexpectedly last night. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time. Ruffino’s will remain open today in order to help our guests Thanksgiving needs – continuing to Celebrate Life the way Ruffin would have wanted us too. We will be providing more information on services as they become available.”
Rodrigue, 53, died of a heart attack.
“What a shame., we were crushed this morning when we heard the news,” LSU football coach Ed Orgeron said during Wednesday’s weekly SEC football teleconference. “I spoke to Ruffin two Sundays ago. I was at his restaurant. He’s from Bayou Lafourche. He supported me and supported LSU. A great Tiger. Obviously, a friend of guys like Eric Andolsek. Was part of something special here at LSU. His daddy played at LSU. A tremendous loss for all of us.”
A native of Thibodaux, Rodrigue followed in the footsteps of his dad, Ruffin Rodrigue, Sr., who played LSU football in the early 1960s as a member of the infamous Chinese Bandits.
Rodrigue was an All-SEC guard at LSU from 1986 through 1989 Coach Bill Arnsparger when Tigers won the SEC championship. After graduating in spring 1990 in marketing, he played for the World League of American Football (now NFL Europe) until an injury in Montreal ended his career and he returned to Louisiana.
Rodrigue put his marketing degree to use working for five years at Mockler Beverage, a Budweiser distributor in Baton Rouge. He developed a friendship with T.J. Moran, the first franchisee of Ruth’s Chris who went on to become one of the largest U. S. franchisees for the steakhouse company and who also owned the wildly popular TJ Ribs and Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant.
In 1998, Ruffin entered the hospitality business with Moran to manage DiNardo’s, an Italian-themed restaurant in South Baton Rouge on Highland Road named after Gerry DiNardo who had been a popular LSU football coach. As DiNardo’s coaching career went into decline it was time to rebrand the endeavor, and Moran, Rodrigue, and chef Peter Sclafani bought out DiNardo and went into partnership in 2000, renaming the restaurant “Ruffino’s.”
The success of Ruffino’s in Baton Rouge led to the opening of its second restaurant in Lafayette in May 2013. Rodrigue and his partners opened Ruffino’s on the River on Camellia Boulevard in the beautiful and spacious restaurant situated on the Vermilion River.
In 2018, Rodrigue bought out his partner, Peter Sclafani, and became the sole owner proprietor of all Ruffino’s properties.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Rodrigue kept his salaried employees on payroll from the cash flow generated from his takeout business.
Rodrigue received many awards for his work in the hospitality industry He was Louisiana’s Marketer of the Year in 2016 and Restaurateur of the Year by the Louisiana Restaurant Association in 2015.