Through a career that saw sweeping changes in the restaurant industry, in the New Orleans culinary scene and within his own family, Theodore “Ted” Brennan kept one thing in focus.
“It was always about the customer. That never changed,” said his son, Teddy Brennan. “Whether it was a couple visiting from Nebraska or someone he knew for 40 years, he always took care of his customers.”
Brennan, who spent 40 years as a proprietor of Brennan’s Restaurant, died Wednesday. He was 68.
He died at home from causes that have not been determined, his son said. He had been diagnosed earlier with Parkinson’s disease.
For most of his adult life, Brennan worked at the landmark Royal Street restaurant that his father, Owen Brennan, founded. Though Ted Brennan was only 7 when his father died in 1955, family members say he embodied Owen Brennan’s famously debonair style, as well as his charisma and generosity.
“He had this ability to bring a smile to almost anyone’s face,” Teddy Brennan said.
The restaurant was his father's life, his son said, and it became an extension of his identity.
A native of New Orleans, he graduated from Ecole Classique school and earned a degree from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. After college, he returned home to join the family business.
That’s when he met Lazone Randolph, then a young cook just starting out at Brennan’s Restaurant. The two became lifelong friends. They were part of the team that opened an expansion of Brennan’s in Dallas in the late 1960s, and they later worked together closely on Royal Street until 2013.
“He was a truly gifted restaurant man,” said Randolph, who eventually became executive chef of Brennan’s Restaurant. “He knew the business, he knew the product and he knew what he wanted.”
Brennan cherished his role as a restaurateur, Randolph said, whether he was participating in charitable functions and other events away from Royal Street or minding the details of the restaurant operation behind the scenes.
“We had a reputation we had to uphold, and Ted Brennan knew that,” Randolph said. “You had to answer to one person. That was Ted Brennan. He was the man.”
While hospitality in the dining room was his forte, Randolph said he pushed the restaurant’s culinary staff to grow and develop. Randolph credits Brennan with his own ascent to executive chef.
“He was always exploring the world of food and wine. Nothing was off limits, and he’d bring it back to us and see if we could put a Brennan’s spin on it,” Randolph said. “That’s part of what made Brennan’s Brennan’s.”
The Brennan’s restaurant legacy, however, has been stalked by a famous family feud. It began with disagreements about the future of the business, and by 1973 it had split the family into two camps.
One side went on to build the Commander’s Palace branch of the Brennan’s restaurant empire. The other retained Brennan’s on Royal Street, and that faction included Ted Brennan. For the decades that followed, he ran Brennan’s Restaurant with his brothers Owen E. “Pip” Brennan Jr. and Jimmy Brennan, who died in 2010.
But another family dispute again shook up the ownership of Brennan’s, and by 2013 the restaurant was sold through bankruptcy court. It was acquired, massively renovated and reopened in 2014 by a cousin, Ralph Brennan, and his business partner.
Ted Brennan was not done with the restaurant business, however. For the past year and a half, he worked with his children and longtime staff members from Brennan’s to open a new restaurant called Ted Brennan’s Decatur. That restaurant is now slated to open in the fall, and when it does it will be a tribute to Ted Brennan, his son said.
“It was created to honor our grandfather (Owen Brennan), and the legacy he started, but now it will be a tribute to Ted Brennan as well,” Teddy Brennan said.
Besides his son, survivors include his wife of 45 years, Ellen Brennan; two daughters, Alana Brennan Mueller and Bridget Brennan Tyrrell; and three grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements will be handled by Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home. Details are pending.
Ted Brennan Sr. no longer runs the restaurant on Royal Street in the French Quarter that mad…