If you’ve ever been to New Orleans (NOLA, say the ‘cool’ people who frequently visit there) then you’ve surely eaten at Brennan’s – most likely for a glamorous brunch or fabulous cocktails at 5ish. Recently, the matriarch of the Brennan clan, Ella Brennan, passed away at 92. In reading the recent coverage about her, I’ve been intrigued by her influence and the apparent way she lived and worked. Not having been part of the flagship family-named restaurant since the 1970’s, she nonetheless paved her own way, in part by developing celebrities with her restaurant Commander’s Palace.
Ever heard of Emeril Lagasse? He’s hardly a Southern gent, but he has become synonymous with NOLA cuisine because Ella started him out. According to James R. Hagerty, writing for WSJ, “Ms. Brennan hired Emeril Bagasse, then 23 years old and from Massachusetts. He stayed eight years and left as a celebrity.”
That got me to thinking about developing people. Clearly the high-end restaurant business is fast paced, stressful, and consumer opinion is made or broken by media coverage (whether its accurate or not…). Sounds a bit like agriculture today. Ella Brennan recognized this and started fostering relationships with journalists and the media early on. She invited them in and encouraged her people to become their media darlings. It worked, and her successful employees, even once they’d left, continued to represent her organization well. Said Lagassee in a recent obit on Brennan: “She taught me this business and forever changed my life and career. She was the grande dame of our business and pioneered our industry, not just in New Orleans but in America.” (I’ve eaten at Emeril’s Delmonico restaurant and its delicious, BTW).
So, ask yourself: How can I be The Grande Dame of what I do and who I influence?
Perhaps the Ella quote I liked the most is this:
“I’m the luckiest person in the world to have lived among so many characters all my life. I mean, when you look back at it, how lucky can you be?” Ella Brennan
Ella, I agree, I’m lucky to live among a lot of characters, too. And, I’m definitely a character myself!
Picture Credit: RobbReport.com
Legendary Restaurateur Ella Brennan Dies at 92