The Power 20

Empires Strike Back

By the RB Editors

Owning a family business is a life sentence in a way, says Al Zehnder, CEO of Zehnder's of Frankenmuth restaurant in Frankenmuth, Mich. "You have to love it," he says. "You have to be passionate about it." But love, legacy and lineage can only take a business so far. The clans on these pages earned their spots on this year's Power 20 list because of how they're reinventing and reinvigorating their restaurants for a new generation of family leaders -- and customers.

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The Brennan's (Commander's Palace, Brennan's et al.)

Few other families are more deeply rooted in restaurants than the Brennan's. And few have more intrigue attached to their name. So it's not surprising, perhaps, that one of the most recent stories to shake out of the family tree centers around its historical namesake restaurant, Brennan's, in New Orleans.

Last November, restaurateur Ralph Brennan, a cousin of previous owners Ted and Owen Brennan, reopened the pick-hued icon (one of seven restaurants in his portfolio) after acquiring it at a foreclosure auction. After pouring an estimated $20 million into its renovation, he now faces the task of offering a new version of the classic for modern diners, while upholding its legacy. Down but not out, Ted and his children announced that "after more than 50 years on Royal Street, the original experience" will move to a different part of town with the opening of Ted Brennan's Decatur restaurant, slated for spring.

Other members of the family have divided up along bloodlines, operating both legendary concepts -- Commander's Palace in New Orleans being among the most famous -- and more experimental concepts. In fact, the next big project under development for the Commander's Family of Restaurants is a new culinary and hospitality school in New Orleans that will open in fall 2016.

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"[Our mother Ella Brennan] said 'Restaurants work exactly the same way gold mines do. You have to be willing to go in every day with a pick and an ax and dig hard to get the reward out.'" - Ti and Alex