New Orleans Restaurant Royalty
Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group’s response to COIVD-19 – including Jazz Fest specials
With Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ extension of the stay-at-home-order to May 15, restaurants continue to feel the strain of closure. The dining scene of New Orleans is a major draw for tourists and a point of pride for locals. One of the most famous names in the industry, Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group, has weathered storms before and intends to get through this one intact.
The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group (RBRG) includes some of New Orleans’ most popular restaurants for visitors – Napoleon House, Red Fish Grill, Brennan’s, Ralphs’ on the Park and Café NOMA. Each aspect of its business, from guests to employees, is focused on people.
Ralph Brennan is the third generation of the family business and president of RBRG. He said the bottom line is, “We are in the hospitality business because of our love of people and the valued relationships we have built.”
Charlee Williamson, executive vice president of RBRG, provided some insight into what they are doing to support their employees, how they have pivoted their business and why a Jazz Fest menu was a must.
How have the COVID-19 social distancing regulations impacted your business?
Williamson: Ralph Brennan, a patriarch of one of New Orleans’ most revered restaurant families, and the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group (RBRG), stand as a powerful reminder that restaurants continue to serve as important pillars in our community, particularly during these uncertain times. Proving that “we’re all in this together” is more than just a mantra, the RBRG has launched curbside pick-up of Free Family Meals for four from Red Fish Grill (not open to the public), available twice a week to all its 531 employees. A most fitting location for this relief effort, as Red Fish Grill was the first operation to be inspected by the FDA and granted a mandatory State of Louisiana health permit to reopen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Friends and neighbors wishing to support RBRG employees and its restaurants can opt to order family-style dinners at the first restaurant of the group to offer for curbside pickup, Ralph’s on the Park, and purchase gift cards, as 25% of each card benefits its displaced staff.
In fitting with the rich history of the Napoleon House, people today have been banished from dining inside the century-old New Orleans establishment, so it is the second one of RBRG to pop-up for grab-and-go. Executive Chef Chris Montero is offering curbside pickup of signature dishes and Frozen Pimm’s Cups by the gallon, half-gallon, or a 16 oz serving starting Tuesday, April 28, 2020, until Saturday, May 2, 2020.
Can you share any employment data?
Williamson: During this time, the team on the ground and maintained on the payroll is a band of brothers and sisters comprised of all RBRG managers – 74 in total. This includes, but is not limited to, dedicated chefs, sommeliers and restaurant managers who have all come together to handle the orders and logistics of these two special promotions. United across RBRG restaurants, these managers are joining forces as they did after Hurricane Katrina, taking this as an opportunity to learn from one another and honor the foundational skills that gave them their start in hospitality. No task is too big or too small – from packing bags to organizing the distribution of meals – in order to sustain the success of these essential services.
With its proximity to the Fairgrounds, what percentage of Ralph’s on the Park guests are tourists during normal Jazz Fest?
Williamson: It varies on the day of the weekend. On weekends there is an increase of newcomers to the bar area and that could be perceived as tourists, but there are also a good portion of familiar faces. Many of the locals are frequent guests of Ralph’s on the Park and do show up which is nice to see. They like to stop by to get a refresh, escape the sun and in some cases out of the rain. It could be an average of about 40 percent are tourists, but we like to think they could be just from another part of town in New Orleans proper. You can be a tourist in your own city!
Why is it important to Ralph’s on the Park to create a Jazz Fest-inspired menu?
Williamson: Ralph’s on the Park has just celebrated its “sweet” 16 birthday. It has been a stop-and-go hot spot during Jazz Fest weekends being only a stone’s throw away from the Fairgrounds. Cars are parked everywhere in the neighborhood. People look to stop in for a drink before heading out to the Fest or when they have finished their day on the grounds, Ralph’s on the Park is a great place to take a breather and close the night with some of the signature appetizers diners are offered only in the springtime. Executive Chef Chip Flanagan is a big music buff and there are those dishes served every year at Jazz Fest and no other time. Ralph’s on the Park is trying to satisfy the cravings like the Softshell Crab Po-Boy everyone looks forward to getting at the tents every year.
The Curbside Jazz Fest To-Go menu at Ralph’s on the Park will include daily specials from Thursday, April 30, to Saturday, May 2.
Thursday: Crawfish Pasta with Louisiana Crawfish Tails, Sausage, Creole Cream Sauce, Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Garlic Focaccia (2 for $25 or 4 for $50)
Friday: Softshell Crab Po-Boy, dressed with Lettuce, Tomato, White Remoulade and Potato Salad (single serving $16)
Saturday: Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, Fried Boudin Balls and Garlic Bread
Available Thursday through Saturday: Strawberry Lemonade (1/2-gallon jugs $10)
There will also be a Virtual Live Piano Bar on Thursday, April 30 featuring Joe Krown from 7 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. via the Ralph’s on the Park Facebook Live and Instagram Live feeds. Krown will be playing requests shared through Instagram and New Orleans jazz standards. Viewers are encouraged to tip if they are able via his PayPal or his Venmo.