Family squabble reaches new heights
There were no deliveries of fresh greens or Leidenheimer french bread. No clanging of pots or plating of trout amandine.
Instead, three security guards manned the kitchen of Brennan’s restaurant Friday morning, a day after Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies evicted the restaurant from its familiar pink home at 417 Royal St.
In the dining room, a lone table was occupied by a lawyer for Leggo/4 LLC, the building’s owner. The company said it had to kick the venerable restaurant out after settlement talks with the establishment’s owners broke down.
Now, the restaurant’s future is uncertain.
Brennan’s was served with seizure documents Thursday just as employees were switching from serving breakfast to lunch.
But news of the restaurant’s closure didn’t seep out until a day later when employees arrived for the morning shift. About 25 servers, chefs and dishwashers gathered outside Friday — their payday — hoping to figure out what had gone wrong and when they would be able to return to work.
But Blake Brennan, who arrived to distribute checks shortly before 9 a.m., told them the restaurant will remain closed at least through the weekend.
“We’re fighting the fight to save this wonderful establishment,” said Brennan, a director in the company that owns the restaurant. “We were hoping to negotiate and get through all of this without this happening so quickly.”
The Royal Street building was sold at a sheriff’s auction in Civil District Court in May to Leggo/4, a group of investors that includes businessman and Galatoire’s investor Harold Hunter, “Terry” White III and Ralph Brennan, a restaurant owner and cousin of Blake Brennan. Ralph Brennan previously had no role in Brennan’s restaurant.
The sale meant that Brennan’s would have needed a lease agreement with Leggo/4 to continue operating at the address.
Blake Brennan said he believed he was in the process of negotiating such a deal with White and Ralph Brennan. The seizure took him by surprise, he said.
“It’s very unfortunate that Terry White and Ralph Brennan did this while we were trying to negotiate,” Blake Brennan said. “They acted pretty harshly to close the building and the business. This was done without notice.”
Ralph Brennan, however, said Leggo/4 was forced to evict the restaurant because it walked away from talks. The restaurant’s owners were warned of the building’s seizure beforehand, Ralph Brennan said.
“Subsequent to our acquisition, Brennan’s never provided any proposal with regard to a lease on the space. Last Friday, having received no proposal, we presented a proposal addressing all outstanding issues, which was rejected by all parties with the promise of a counter offer, which we never received,” Ralph Brennan said in a statement. “Absent any counter offer, proceedings began last week for us to assume full possession of the building. Brennan’s was given proper notice, knew the deadline and made no effort to contest the proceedings. Therefore, it should have come as no surprise (Thursday) when Brennan’s was evicted from the building.”
A spokesman for Leggo/4 said Brennan’s had been offered and subsequently rejected a “global settlement offer,” the details of which he declined to provide. It did not include a lease agreement, the restaurant’s owners said.
The eviction comes as members of the Brennan family have been engaged in a legal battle for control of the restaurant, founded by Owen Edward Brennan in 1946 and famous for inventing the Bananas Foster dessert.
A dispute between Owen Brennan’s sons — Ted Brennan and Owen “Pip” Brennan, who is Blake Brennan’s father — went to court in April. The brothers are shareholders in the business, which is mired in debt. Ted Brennan and his daughter Bridget Brennan Tyrrell had run the restaurant since 2006. In June, shareholders ousted the pair and gave control to Pip Brennan.
Pip Brennan said he believed that Ralph Brennan, as the building’s new owner, intended to work with him as the restaurant’s new owner to come to an agreement on a lease.
But Pip Brennan was served with an eviction notice June 20. He responded by filing a lawsuit against White, Ralph Brennan, Ted Brennan, Tyrrell and Leggo/4 that day, arguing for the foreclosure to be voided and the property turned over to him. Pip Brennan said he didn’t tell employees of the eviction notice because he thought the court case would be decided first.
“There’s no reason he had to do this other than greed,” Pip Brennan said of Ralph Brennan. “If it wasn’t for my father, Ralph Brennan wouldn’t be where he is today. It’s a sad, sad day and it did not have to come to be.”
Pip Brennan said he intends to exhaust legal options and then consider moving the restaurant, which opened at Bourbon and Bienvelle streets and moved to Royal Street in 1956.
Although Blake Brennan told employees Friday morning that he hoped to have the restaurant in operation by Monday afternoon, Ralph Brennan said plans for the building are “uncertain” and will be announced at a later date. Brennan’s employs about 100 people.
Employees began arriving before 7 a.m. to begin preparing for the restaurant’s breakfast service Friday.
“I rang the doorbell like I always do,” line chef Shawn Williams said.
Instead of produce delivery workers, Williams was greeted at the kitchen entrance by a uniformed security guard.
“He said ‘You guys didn’t get the word that you don’t work here?’ ” Williams said. “I feel like I’m in a state of limbo.”
Williams was one of more than two dozen people who sat on the steps of the Louisiana Supreme Court building, across the street from Brennan’s, waiting for word on what to do next.
“I have a house, family, all of that,” server Orestes Rodriguez Jr. said. “I have to bring home money.”