The spice of life
Every business has its special set of challenges, which become even more complicated when the “family factor” is added. When the family business is a restaurant, family members must be able to stand the heat or get out of the kitchen. Our cover story profiles the Bozzi and Ganzi families, who have operated the famed Palm Restaurant Group in a two-family partnership since 1926. Third-generation members Wally Ganzi and Bruce Bozzi Sr. now run the steakhouse chain and are contemplating succession.
Many American cities have restaurants that have been family-run for years, but New Orleans seems to have more than its fair share. During my undergraduate years there, I had the pleasure of knowing a family recognized as “the” restaurant family—the Brennans. The hugely popular Brennan’s Restaurant had been run by members of the founding family until the early ’70s, when there was a painful split among the second generation. Several members kept the original restaurant, while the other half of the family restored and operated the historic, award-winning Commander’s Palace.
I remember being impressed with the family’s tireless dedication as they personally greeted every guest and worked far into the night seven days a week. I marveled at their constant enthusiasm, their attention to detail and the hands-on training of the next generation. Third-generation member Ralph Brennan built his own restaurant empire while working with both his siblings and, so far, one of his children. A consummate restaurateur, Ralph is noted for his past chairmanship of the National Restaurant Association. In 2005, Oprah Winfrey recognized Ralph for his generous financial support of his employees after Hurricane Katrina struck.
Another success story is Antoine’s, a New Orleans landmark since 1840. It is the oldest family-run restaurant in the U.S. and is credited with inventing Oysters Rockefeller. The stories about inheriting your waiter at Antoine’s are true. When I ate there in 1973, I was able to ask for Sydney, who had waited on my New Orleans-born grandmother, Caro!
There is something special about family-run restaurants. In addition to the challenges of setting family employment policies and succession planning, a vital aspect is the hands-on basic training. Many start their children off in the kitchen or the storeroom. Ralph Brennan has fond memories of being “a prep cook boning chickens and peeling shrimp by the thousands.” But with all the extra hours, it’s never easy in the restaurant business to find time to discuss family issues and, more importantly, long-term strategy. One thing is certain: You have to love the food business as much as you love your family!
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