by Ian McNulty
Speculation on the future for Brennan’s Restaurant has been rampant since its landmark Royal Street property changed hands in a rapid string of developments this spring.
The building was purchased at auction in May by a company led by local restaurateur Ralph Brennan, and by June 28 the restaurant’s operators were evicted, essentially shuttering Brennan’s. After that flurry of activity, however, it appears the new owners are taking some time to chart what will happen here next.
“The ownership group has no definitive plan to announce for the property, and it likely won’t for several weeks,” says Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Ralph Brennan.
Beuerman couldn’t say whether the property would be used as a restaurant, but he added that the new owners “want to make sure what goes in there is a world-class destination worthy of the history of that building.”
Indeed, the building at 417 Royal Street dates back to 1795 and has variously been used as a residence, a bank and an events hall before the Brennan family opened their first restaurant under its roof in 1954. In its current configuration, the restaurant has 12 dining rooms and a large patio with a total capacity of 550 guests, according to the Brennan’s Restaurant Web site.
New owner Ralph Brennan is related to the restaurant’s previous operators, and he’s part of a family that runs many different restaurants around New Orleans through several separate companies. Different branches of the Brennan family suffered a fractious split in the early 1970s, but Ralph Brennan’s own experience with the Royal Street restaurant goes back further than that.
In 2008, Brennan published “Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook,” and during an interview with Gambit about the book in that year he shared stories about growing up in the restaurant family. In particular, he recalled family visits to Brennan’s Restaurant as a boy in 1960s. While the adults talked business, he was cut loose to explore.
"I had to entertain myself at the restaurant. It was fascinating, that old building, everything. I could run around the kitchen. I'd be behind the bar. The bartenders would show me how to make milk punch. It was fun growing up there," he said in that interview.
He had his first job at Brennan's too, peeling shrimp and doing similar prep work in the kitchen.
"But I got caught up in the split between the family," he said. "When things happened, I didn't have a job."
He explained the split during that interview succinctly as a "difference in philosophy" between family members (in his cookbook’s introduction he described it as “an unfortunate business dispute within my extended family”).
Brennan went on to earn an accounting degree and worked for six years in the local office of the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers as a CPA. Eventually, his aunt Ella Brennan brought him back into the fold, offering him a position at Commander's Palace and later sending him to the family's then-new Mr. B's Bistro, where he became general manager. Today, his Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group includes five restaurants in New Orleans, one in Disney Land and a local catering operation.