Ralph Brennan personifies fine food and New Orleans charm, easily qualifying him as the perfect ambassador for The Big Easy. As one of America’s leading restaurateurs, Brennan heads The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, which boasts such well-received New Orleans concepts as Red Fish Grill, Ralph’s on the Park, Heritage Grill, café b, Café NOMA, and Ralph Brennan Catering & Events. In Southern California, he owns Jazz Kitchen at Downtown Disney. Brennan, who has won virtually every industry award, including the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association’s Gold Plate Award, and has been inducted into the National Restaurant Association’s College of Diplomates, is also a former chairman of the NRA and president of the Louisiana Restaurant Association and the New Orleans Restaurant Association. He entered the family business in the early 1980s, after a successful stint as a certified public accountant with Price Waterhouse & Co., and is one of eight third-generation cousins actively involved in today’s restaurant industry.
How has the industry changed over the course of your career?
I think the most significant changes are on the culinary side, the food side, and the chef side. Celebrity chefs have become very popular, and nowadays everything is food-centric. There is a real attachment to the kitchen and the chefs because people cook at home. I have often wondered how to duplicate that connection to the front of the house, where the excitement hasn’t risen to the level it has for the kitchen and the chef.
What characteristics do you think make the best restaurateurs?
The best characteristics are commitment to staff and commitment to the customer. It is so important to go above and beyond for the customer, and to do the same thing for each employee. My background is accounting, but I don’t run anything by the numbers. I try to lead by example.
How is business, and what is your take on the economy?
Our business has been pretty good, and it is up everywhere over last year, which is especially encouraging given the number of restaurants that are opening in this city. I am worried about the long term because I see a softening of travel and tourism, and unemployment remains high. We’ve seen Southern California go up and down, but right now it is tracking pretty good because Disney has really kept up with its business. In New Orleans things have been good because of sporting events. For instance, this year we had the BCS National Championship game and the NCAA Final Four. Next year we get the ladies’ Final Four and the Super Bowl. All of these things are good, and the publicity we get is great.