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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to annemarie@southernfoodways.org.

< Back to Oral History project: The Brennan Family of New Orleans


Ella and Dottie Brennan

Commander's Palace

Ella and Dottie Brennan are sisters born to John Brennan and Nellie Valentine. They grew up in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans. After a brief stint in business school, Ella began managing her brother Owen Brennan’s bar, The Absinthe House, in 1943.  She was only seventeen years old. When he bought the Vieux Carré restaurant in 1946, she took an active leadership role, overseeing daily operations. Dottie Brennan, eight years Ella’s junior, would walk from school to the French Quarter, being handed from policeman to policeman until she reached her sister at the Vieux Carré.

When their brother Owen died in 1955, Ella stepped into the leadership role he left behind. With a loan from their brother John Brennan’s father-in-law, the Brennan family transformed the Vieux Carré. They moved the restaurant to Royal Street and renamed it Brennan’s on Royal. Dottie married and raised a family. At times, she would work the front of the house at Brennan’s, greeting customers.

In 1969, the Brennan siblings bought Commander’s Palace, a historic restaurant with a lackluster reputation. In 1974, they revitalized the restaurant. Throughout the years, Ella has toiled endlessly at the helm of what became an esteemed institution. In the 1980s, Dottie joined her siblings full time at Commander’s Palace.

Though Ella and Dottie officially retired, they still played an active role in Commander’s, listening and sharing their seasoned opinions with the second generation of Brennans running Commander’s. Ella Brennan passed away on May 31, 2018.

Date of interview:

Sara Roahen

Ava Lowrey

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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