Beginning in 1910, six children– Owen, Dick, Adelaide, John, Ella, and Dottie Brennan– were born to Owen Brennan and Nellie Valentine in the Irish Channel neighborhood of New Orleans. Owen worked in the maritime industry until his retirement in the early 1940s. Owen Brennan, the son, was an astute businessman, known for his gregarious personality. He bought the Absinthe House, a bar on Bourbon Street in 1943. Owen Brennan transformed it into an all-night saloon, popular during World War II. In 1946, he bought a restaurant across the street, the Vieux Carré. He renamed it Brennan’s Vieux Carré.
When Owen Brennan died in 1955, Ella Brennan and her siblings took over operations. Brennan’s on Bourbon moved to Royal Street in 1956. The family added a second restaurant, Brennan’s of Houston in 1967. Dick, John, Ella, and Adelaide bought Commander’s Palace in 1969. According to the Times-Picayune, the expansion of the Brennan family restaurants caused tension between Owen’s heirs and his siblings. The burgeoning empire split in 1973. Owen’s children, Pip, Jimmy, and Ted, retained ownership of Brennan’s, and Dick, Ella, John, Adelaide, and Dottie maintained Commander’s Palace. In their oral history interview, Ella and Dottie Brennan remember working with chefs to transform the menu, reimaging Commander’s as a haute Creole restaurant.
Thomas Robey and Gus Martin discuss their long-standing tenures as chefs. Gus Martin talks about his long career at Commander’s Palace and his deep reverence for Dick Brennan. Thomas Robey values the wisdom of Ella Brennan, to whom he has often delivered food and from whom he often sought opinion.
As the next generation blossomed, the Brennan family added more restaurants to their New Orleans portfolio. Cousins Ti Martin and Lally Brennan stress the importance of a tight familial bond to their success. As co-proprietors with different strengths, they helped one another better operate Commander’s Palace and its siblings.
Interviews from the Brennan Family of New Orleans oral history project will not be available for public use until May 1, 2019, and then only with specific permission from SFA.