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End Of An Era For The New Orleans Restaurant Industry.

News of one of the most important event in the history of the New Orleans restaurant business broke loose on Thursday, June 7, 2918. This was when we all learned that Ella Brennan died early today, at the age of ninety-two. Ella had long since retired from the business whose shape she had determined for decades. But that didn’t mean that she no longer called a lot of shots in the New Orleans restaurant. The people who had worked with her since she was a teenager still make up a large percentage of the industry. The most famous chefs, restaurant managers, winemakers, and even competitors knew who she was and paid close attention what she did and said. Even her customers took cues fron Miss Ella.

Her career grew from her brother Owen Brennan’s cafĂ© on Bourbon Street. She was a teenager when she cajoled Owen into letting her manage the dining room of Brennan’s French Restaurant. Owen demurred at first, but was won over by Ella’s insistence that there was a lot that could be done to make Brennan’s a major restaurant and a fun place to hang out from.

Things went uphill from there. Her other siblings joined the restaurant business, and Brennan’s evolved into the spectacular establishment it was by the 1960s. It’s hard to say what exactly Ella did to make this happen, but it had something to do with allowing the customers to enjoy themselves. A recent quotation about this has Ella saying, I wouldn’t want to go to a restaurant where if would be out of place for a marching jazz band to pass through the dining room and playing music.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of what Ella brought to the party is that she wrote a large book entitled Miss Ella of Commander’s. It’s full of stories, almost all of which were about a lot of fun being had by the Brennan’s and the hundreds of people they knew.

Ella often said that she wasn’t a chef. That’s what she hired chefs for her. She hired the best. In her mind, the best chef she ever worked with was Paul Prudhome. Emeril Lagasse was another discovery at Commander’s. When one Commander’s major moved on, the search for a replacement was never easy.

The reason Ella wrote her autobiography is that she could. It should be required reading for everybody looking for a career in the restaurant business should study–not merely read–Miss Ella Of Commander’s.

There was no public funeral. Ella’s daughter Ti Martin continues to run Commander’s Palace, along with cousin Lally Brennan. Ella’s son Alex Brennan Martin ownes Brennan’s in Houston.
And then there were all the other Brennan restaurants and Brennan restaurants people. In their minds, the standards set by Ella Brennan are eternal.

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