Ella Brennan, the matriarch of the family behind the award-winning restaurant, Commander’s Palace, died at 92 on the morning of Thursday, May 31st in her home in the Garden District. Born in 1925, she entered the restaurant business in 1946, despite not actually cooking herself. Instead, she retained everything she observed and used that knowledge to grow her family’s restaurant business from one challenged restaurant (owned and operated by her father and brother) to the now over 14 locations they currently operate.
The restaurant gained popularity (Commander’s Palace won six James Beard Awards for outstanding service and six Wine Spectator Grand Awards throughout the years) not just because of her command of food knowledge, but because of her understanding of how people wanted to be treated -- customers and staff alike. She made every meal an event for the patrons, with jazz second lines and theatrical performances gracing the floors of her restaurants.
Her relationship with her staff was just as enchanting, she knew exactly how people needed to be talked to get the job done, and the relationships she built lasted even after employees left the establishment (and often went on to be successful in their own right). Brennan prided herself on being a teacher, and she had the ability to help shape anyone’s potential; many of her former employees were able to open their own restaurants later in life.
This is not to say that she was without troubles; an unhappy chef once came at her with a kitchen knife, and after her brother died of a heart attack, there was significant tension within the family (not to mention the troubles that the hurricanes of 2005 caused them). For a long time, Ella Brennan was out of the family business, but eventually, she was back to helping operate the business and making it what it is today.
We here at Where Y’at Magazine wish the family of Ella Brennan our deepest condolences for their loss.