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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.

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ORAL HISTORY

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 has become an esteemed institution. In the 1980s, Dottie joined her siblings full time at Commander’s Palace.

Today, the sisters share a home in the Garden District of New Orleans, right down the street from Commander’s Palace. Though Ella and Dottie have officially retired, they still play an active role in Commander’s, listening and sharing their seasoned opinions with the second generation of Brennans running Commander’s.

Date of interview:
2017-01-17

Interviewer:
Sara Roahen

Photographer:
Ava Lowrey

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