KEVIN McGILL, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — A French Quarter culinary landmark famed for lavish courtyard breakfasts and its signature dessert creation, Bananas Foster, has unexpectedly closed its doors while complex litigation in a longtime family feud plays out.
Employees arriving for work at Brennan's on Friday morning found the doors locked. The Sheriff's Office confirmed that the restaurant was evicted by a corporation that bought the structure in a May foreclosure sale amid legal battles over which members of the Brennan family are in control.
Owen "Pip" Brennan, son of Brennan's founder Owen Edward Brennan, remains in control of Brennan's Inc., for now. But his control of a decisive number of corporate shares remains a point of litigation. He has vowed to keep fighting to re-open, at the original location or in a new place. In a statement Friday, he blamed mismanagement by his brother Ted and Ted's daughter Bridget for the financial woes that led to foreclosure.
"They're sickened that all of this has happened because of the effect it's having on the employees," Vic Welsh, an attorney for Pip Brennan and his sons said Friday in a telephone interview.
On Friday afternoon, Ralph Brennan, a cousin of Pip and Ted, announced that he is a principal in a new company that had taken ownership of the familiar gas-lit building at 417 Royal Street. He hopes to open a different restaurant there, but details — including a timetable and whether it will incorporate the familiar Brennan's name — are far from being worked out.
Ralph Brennan called the latest developments "regrettable and sad" but insisted that his efforts to help the restaurant and settle the dispute were rejected.
The only thing certain as of Friday: Court battles will continue.
At least in terms of control of Brennan's Inc., Pip is the latest winner. U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan ruled weeks ago that he is a shareholder, despite claims to the contrary by Ted and Bridget. His ownership confirmed, Pip was elected president of the corporation Friday by virtue of the shares he controls or influences.
But his ownership of 196 shares of Brennan's Inc. is still being disputed according to Phil Wittmann, an attorney for Ted Brennan.
Meanwhile, the eviction deprives Pip Brennan of a building and New Orleans of a decades-old dining tradition.
Owen Brennan established the original Brennan's on Bourbon Street in 1946 before moving later to the Royal Street location. According to the restaurant's online history, he began pushing "Breakfast at Brennan's" after the publication of a mystery novel invoking the name of a rival restaurant, "Dinner at Antoine's."
Famous for inventing the Bananas Foster dessert in 1951, the restaurant had a prominent place on the city's culinary landscape when its founder died in 1955 at age 45.
In the 1960s, the family opened restaurants in Houston and Dallas and purchased Commander's Palace, another upscale New Orleans restaurant. The expansion, however, led to a decline in the original restaurant's reputation and fueled a schism between some family members.
Amid the family management squabbles, the original Brennan's was heavily in debt and the building was sold in foreclosure this year to a corporation called Leggo/4. On Friday, Ralph Brennan spokesman Greg Beuerman said a new corporate entity, 417 Royal, had been created and had taken ownership of the building. What Ralph Brennan and the other principals in 417 Royal will do with the building is unclear.
"What the owners do know is that they are committed to a business venture at that location that does justice to the iconic history of that building, to the cultural and historical importance of that location," Beuerman said.
Even with the original Brennan's closed, the family name remains prominent in New Orleans. In the French Quarter alone, family members play various rolls in ownership and management of restaurants that include Mr. B's Bistro, Red Fish Grill, Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse and others.