NOLA Bred, NOLA Fed: Ralph Brennan
The New Orleans Restaurateur Who Exemplifies His City’s Post- Katrina Resilience
August 29, 2015 (exactly one month from tomorrow) marks the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a storm whose power and aftermath will continue to loom large in our nation’s collective memory for decades to come. Ralph Brennan, a patriarch of one of New Orleans’ oldest restaurant families, employed some 300 people at the time, has an especially broad perspective of the storm’s effect on New Orleans residents, their spirit, and their beloved food culture. Ralph Brennan will tell you that while Katrina put them to the test, his first priority was to keep his employees safe and retain all whom he could reach on his payroll.
Immediately after storm, Ralph did everything in his power to help his city get back on its feet. His Red Fish Grill was the first operation to be granted the mandatory FDA license to re-open in the city — lack of electricity and potable running water notwithstanding; BACCO, now closed, was the second one given the permission to re-open, the following day. Brennan and his team worked round-the-clock preparing food and serving it on paper plates to lines of hungry citizens that wound out their doors. When President Bush and the First Lady traveled to New Orleans to survey the damage, they dined at BACCO. By opening quickly, the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group sent a message to the world that New Orleans was open for business. Closer to home, it was providing food, a most basic human need, as well as employment for its loyal employees and others looking for work.
When the BP oil spill delivered a second brutal blow to the Gulf Coast, Ralph Brennan worked tirelessly to support and advocate for those dependent on its fishing industry. A respected authority on the subject [and author of his own New Orleans Seafood Cookbook,] he testified before Congress about the desperate plight of the region’s fishermen. Over the past ten years, his restaurant group has purchased nearly five million pounds of Gulf fish and six million oysters – staggering numbers that illustrate Brennan’s investment in his community, and his drive to uphold his city’s culinary traditions.
In the decade since Katrina, Ralph invested in his city and has purchased or opened five restaurants. His two most recent, Napoleon House and Brennan’s restaurant, are establishments that are among the most iconic elements of New Orleans’ cultural identity and give such rich character to the city. Brennan’s, the flagship French Quarter restaurant founded by his grandfather, was especially important to keep in the family as it has been for the past 70 years. Ralph is admired in the restaurant community for how to successfully continue a path of elevated culinary talent.
Brennan’s determination, resilient can-do attitude, and deep investment at both a personal and corporate level have made him a central figure in the recovery of New Orleans’ restaurants and seafood trade – industries that are at the heart of the city, itself, and whose fortunes affect and reflect those of New Orleans, Louisiana.