It began with a late-night call from her brother.
From bananas Foster to Emeril Lagasse, Ella Brennan’s influence on the culinary world is immeasurable. But of her countless contributions to the New Orleans restaurant scene, many would argue that none have become as synonymous with the Big Easy as jazz brunch.
Ella introduced the concept of jazz brunch to Commander’s Palace patrons in the mid 1970s after a late-night phone call from her younger brother Dick. According to Offbeat.com, Dick was in the lobby of a grand hotel in London, waiting with his family to check out, when he saw brunch being served in the dining room. He poked his head in and noted that the patrons were eating their eggs and fruit in dead silence. Then he heard a Dixieland jazz trio playing on the other side of the lobby and a bell rang in his head. He reportedly called Ella in New Orleans immediately.
“Ella!” he said. “Listen to this! Jazz brunch!”
“Dick! It’s three o’clock in the morning!” she replied. “How much have you been drinking?”
And the rest, as they say, is history.
When Dick returned home, Commander’s Palace hired a team of local musicians to perform during the weekend brunch services. It was an immediate success. In fact, the cover of Ella’s memoir features the quote, “I don’t want a restaurant where a jazz band can’t come marching through.”
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Now, more than 40 years later, restaurants all over the world offer the musical innovation, but few realize that it was all thanks to the Brennan family and a late-night, overseas phone call.