New Orleans has long had a strong influence on the American culinary scene. More recently, however, some of the movers and shakers in the local restaurant world have been making their presence felt in national industry circles too.
This month, local restaurateurs Dickie Brennan (above), managing partner of Dickie Brennan & Co., and Tommy Cvitanovich (right), owner of his family’s Drago’s seafood restaurants, join the board of directors of the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the leading industry group for restaurants. The selection of two new members to the prominent board from the same market was an unusual and significant move for the NRA, which draws its members from a broad swath of the national industry.
“The NRA could have picked one of us this year and said the other could wait for another year, but they picked both of us,” says Cvitanovich. “I think it shows the respect they have our industry and our culture here. They know what it represents and what we as independent restaurateurs can bring to the table.”
The New Orleans restaurant industry has weathered much in the past few years, from Hurricane Katrina to more recent hits to seafood supply and public perception from the Gulf oil disaster. Both Brennan and Cvitanovich agree the perspective they gained during this period will be valuable to the NRA’s work.
“We both reacted quickly and jumped back in. Dealing with the unexpected is something we have a lot of experience with now,” says Brennan, whose restaurant group includes Palace Café, Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse and Bourbon House Seafood Restaurant and employees some 350 people.
Both restaurateurs have been active in the Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) for many years. Brennan was LRA chairman in 2001; Cvitanovich will take that role this year.
“I think at a national level this is recognition of how strong the industry is here in Louisiana and how successful the LRA has been,” says Brennan.
He credits the LRA with taking proactive steps to boost safety, accountability and professionalism in the restaurant industry. For instance, the association initiated standardized, statewide training and certification programs for alcohol service and food handling safety, and also launched its ProStart program, which offers training for high school students interested in careers in the hospitality industry.
The NRA’s board elected Brennan and Cvitanovich to serve three-year terms.