NEW ORLEANS - The future of the famous Brennan's Restaurant on Royal Street seemed to be up in the air Friday after a recent sale of the building, a shift in management and an eviction as part of a family struggle for control of the restaurant.
Employees showed up for work on Friday morning to find the doors still locked.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Leggo/4 Corporation has not acted in good faith,” said manager Owen "Pip" Brennan in a statement. “We are especially saddened by the impact of Leggo/4’s action on the approximately 100 employees of Brennan’s Restaurant whose lives have been impacted by the closure.”
In May, the Brennan's building was sold at a foreclosure sale and sheriff's auction. It was purchased by Leggo / 4, a group of investors which includes businessman Terry White and - it was revealed Friday - Ralph Brennan, cousin to Pip and Ted Brennan and a major restaurant owner in his own right.
""This is a very sad day for me, my children and all members of the Brennan’s Restaurant staff. When we were running Brennan's Inc. we were in talks with Leggo 4, LLC. However, once Pip ousted us, any talks we were having on behalf of Brennan's Inc. ceased and this is the result," Ted Brennan said.
Pip Brennan believes the current impasse is due to mismanagement of the restaurant by Ted Brennan and his daughter, Bridget Brennan Tyrell.
“In seven short years, Brennan’s has come from being one of New Orleans premier restaurants to its current state of financial chaos,” Pip Brennan said. Phillip Wittmann, an attorney for Ted and Bridget Brennan Tyrell, denied that, calling the actions of Pip Brennan and sons "unacceptable and disturbing."
While a court fight is sure to continue, Ralph Brennan said he hopes to return the iconic pink building on Royal St. to commerce soon. It was opened by Pip and Ted Brennan's father in the 1950s and has become famous worldwide, particularly for breakfast and Bananas Foster.
"The closure of Brennan’s restaurant is regrettable and sad, but could have been averted many times over the past two years," Ralph Brennan said. "For the last two years, I have been in repeated contact with my cousins in an effort to help avert the financial crisis that Brennan’s Inc. finds itself in today. Several offers to inject capital into the company were made and rejected."
After buying the restaurant in May, Ralph Brennan said, Leggo / 4 never received a lease proposal from Brennan's. "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.
"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 yesterday when Brennan’s was evicted from the building," Ralph Brennan said.
Two employees told WWL-TV that they showed up to work on Thursday afternoon to find that the restaurant was shut down. When Eyewitness News crews drove by, everything was off, including the gas lantern outside.
"I rang the doorbell, and the sheriffs came to the door, about four of five of them, and told me that I was no longer employed and that the building had been sold, and that we didn't have any jobs. It's just like, you know, a crushing blow," said Shawn Williams, a chef at the restaurant. "Yesterday, my cousin had informed me that they had closed the building around three o'clock, because he works the night shift. So I didn't know whether they were going to open or not today. So, that's why I came out to see if it was going to open, and they said no."
"It is regrettable that they chose not to inform their employees that closure was imminent but I am committed to working with interested employees to find employment where possible," Ralph Brennan said in his statement.
Employees said they had not heard from managers until Owen Brennan and Blake Brennan, who took over management of the Brennan Corporation earlier in June, showed up at the restaurant around 9 a.m. Friday to hand out paychecks.
"We are sick that the staff was not told of the eviction notice Pip and his sons received. Our efforts to communicate with our employees the past three weeks have been prohibited by Pip and his agents. We have faith in the judicial system and it will hopefully lead to a prosperous solution for the Corporation and all Brennan's employees, who we consider our true family," said Ted Brennan.
"Brennan's restaurant has been closed by the recent purchaser of the 417 Royal Street location, until further notice. The corporation, which has been embroiled in inter-familial litigation as to whom has controlling stock, was under the management of Pip Brennan and his sons when they were evicted from the premises yesterday afternoon by the building owner," said another Brennan family member on Friday morning.
Blake Brennan, Pip Brennan's son, said they found out about the eviction around 1:30 p.m. Thursday, between breakfast and lunch/dinner shifts.
"They came in without notice...had sheriffs show up and said, 'Guess what, we're locking the doors. Everybody needs to get out," Blake Brennan said.
Also Friday, an attorney for Pip Brennan said there was a status conference in federal court on Pip Brennan's request for an injunction in the case.
Brennan is seeking an injunction to stop his brother Ted Brennan, and Ted's daughter Bridget, from purchasing more shares of stock in Brennan's (which belonged to the third brother, Jimmy, who is now deceased). That could give Ted and Bridget Brennan a majority and put them back in control of the restaurant. Judge Susie Morgan denied the request, however.
"This is a very sad day for me, my children and all members of the Brennan’s Restaurant staff. When we were running Brennan's Inc. we were in talks with Leggo 4, LLC. However, once Pip ousted us, any talks we were having on behalf of Brennan's Inc. ceased and this is the result," Ted Brennan said.
The perishables at the restaurants, believed to be valued at $50,000, were donated to Second Harvest food bank, Pip Brennan said. “We wanted to make sure that the perishable items were put to good use by individuals who are in a time of need.”