The Brennan Family
Todd A. Price - April 2014
Food Arts presents the April 2014 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to the current generation of the Brennan family, a group of cousins and siblings who operate 13 restaurants in New Orleans alone, and maintain the high standards of hospitality and cuisine instilled in them by their parents’ generation.
Commander’s Palace, where both Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse launched their careers, is the source of the values shared by all the restaurants run by this branch of the family. Commander’s, established in 1880 but purchased by the Brennans in 1969, respects the French-influenced Creole cooking of New Orleans, while constantly updating for contemporary tastes. The service at Commander’s is polished, professional, almost choreographed but always gracious and fun.
The legendary restaurateur Ella Brennan, a 1990 Silver Spoon recipient along with her late brother Dick, did more than anyone to establish Commander’s Palace as a world-class operation. Today, her daughter, Ti Martin, and her niece, Lally Brennan, manage the restaurant. “Lally and I feel we may hold the keys to Commander’s Palace,” Ti says, “but Commander’s belongs to New Orleans.”
The “cousins,” as the Brennans call themselves, have branched out and opened restaurants across the city and even the country.
Lally and Ti have the stylish Creole bistro Cafe Adelaide. And Ti opened SoBou, a cocktail-focused “spirited restaurant,” in 2012. In Texas, Alex Brennan-Martin oversees Brennan’s of Houston, operating since 1967. Cindy Brennan Davis is responsible for Mr. B’s Bistro, founded in 1979.
Dickie Brennan Jr. and his sister Lauren Brennan Brower have built a restaurant group with four operations, including Palace Cafe and Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. In 2014, they opened Tableau. The new restaurant was carved out of the central French Quarter home of Le Petite Theatre, a nearly century old community theater.
Ralph Brennan, the oldest of the cousins, created an independent restaurant group that now operates five New Orleans restaurants, including Ralph’s on the Park and Red Fish Grill, and another at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Last year, when the original Brennan’s, famous for inventing bananas Foster and operated by a separate branch of the family, was forced into foreclosure, Ralph purchased the iconic French Quarter structure, built in 1795. He and a local partner are investing millions to renovate the building, which will reopen this spring.
Ti jokes that her mother, Ella, founded the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau on their front porch. “Our parents and aunts and uncles instilled in us that our restaurants are members of the community,” Lauren says. The Brennans volunteer their time to promote tourism and the restaurant industry, both in New Orleans and the nation. Their service ranges from Ralph’s current board membership at The Culinary Institute of America, Lally’s work with the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, to Dickie’s position on the Allstate Sugar Bowl Committee. Ti has even taken a major role in the reform and renovation of the local airport.
The Brennans will no doubt continue to shape how New Orleanians dine for years to come. Several children of the “cousins” are now attending culinary school and entering the industry.
“I guess,” Lauren says, “it’s in their blood.”