Food Arts presents its November 1990 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Ella and Dick Brennan, the sister-brother driving force behind the Brennan restaurant dynasty of New Orleans and Houston.
“Dick and I double in brass,” says the ebullient Ella of their smooth as a Sazerac cocktail operating style. “He’s a quiet, laid-back guy, and I’m a pushy broad” she laughs, but behind the good ol’ girl gaiety flames a fierce intelligence and a ferocious devotion to evolved Creole food and unbeatable service that has hoisted the family’s reputation to national eminence.
In New Orleans, people go out to see and be seen; they demand action, excitement, fun. This the Brennans deliver along with memorable meals, served without affection. “I don’t want to genuflect before I go into a dining room, and why should they?” Ella says. “A quiet little place is what we are not.” And the cuisine? “We cannot afford to be subtle. We’ve got to ‘Creolize’ a chef. If we’re subtle,” she says, slashing her throat with a finger, “we’re out of business. And this is a risky business—the big gamblers in Las Vegas have nothing on restaurateurs. But it should never get dull and boring, it should always stay fun. Even after all these years, to get up every day and make this whole thing come together is very exciting.”
The first Brennan’s restaurant, on Bourbon and Bienville, was bought for their father’s retirement in 1946. Big brother Owen was then the guiding light. His premature death in 1955 left a profound wound that, one infers from his sister’s wistful recollections, has yet to heal. Younger brother Dick immediately left law school to join the family restaurant, which shortly moved to Royale Street. Commander’s Palace, which now engages more than 200 employees, was purchased in 1971; Ella moved there in 1974. Today Dick divides his time between guiding Commander’s kitchen to new peaks and overseeing the front of the house, where at all times there is a “B.O.D.” (Brennan On Duty), a command post shared by Ella, Dick, brother John, and sister Dottie.
The younger Brennan generation is well on its way. John’s children, Ralph and Cindy, have operated the spiffy Creole bistro Mr. B’s in New Orleans since 1979, and are about to launch a new restaurant. Ella’s son Alex Brennan-Martin runs Brennan’s in Houston. Dottie’s son Radford, Dick’s son Dick Jr., and Ella’s daughter Ti are on the verge of opening a Creole style brasserie called the Palace Cafe at the gateway to the French Quarter. May they know half the fun and excitement of their remarkable parents.