This November, a woman near and dear to the New Orleans culinary scene was once again celebrated through a lifetime achievement award in her name. The New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (NOWFE) presented the 2014 Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award in Hospitality to Drago and Klara Cvitanovich, the beloved founders of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant.

Klara Cvitanovich, photo courtesy of Andrea Mabry Photography

“As the newest member of the NOWFE Board of Directors, I am extremely proud to be presenting this award in honor of my aunt, Ella Brennan,” says Lauren Brennan Brower, owner and managing partner of Dickie Brennan & Co. “The Cvitanovich’s are perfect examples of what this award represents: hard work and a lifelong passion for our industry.”

Born in Yugoslavia before immigrating to the U.S., the Cvitanovich’s met in the mid-1950’s during a Mardi Gras celebration, a fitting inauguration of the love they share for the community. They opened Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in the late 60's, and have since been an integral part of the hospitality industry, serving the greater New Orleans community through service, philanthropy and their charbroiled oyster empire. For 45 years they have made this region stronger, safer and more united--in the weeks following Katrina, Drago's gave away more than 77,000 meals.  
“We are humbled by this award, yet it is our honor to serve our communities and our neighbors, especially in times of need,” says Mr. Cvitanovich. “We are committed to continuing our support of local nonprofits and the people of this region.”
National World War II Museum, photo
courtesy of Andrea Mabry Photography
The gala, which took place Thursday, November 13 at the National World War II Museum, celebrated the husband-wife team for their incredible passion while entertaining guests with the NOCCA Jazz Ensemble and participating restaurants, including Emeril’s (Emeril Lagasse being a loving acolyte of Miss Ella Brennan herself), Commander’s Palace, Palace Café, and Mr. B’s Bistro (all Brennan family staples), Acme Oyster House, and more.

Like past winners, who include Chef Paul Prudhomme (he got his start at Commander's Palace), philanthropist Bill Goldring, and Chef Leah Chase, the Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Award embodies Ella Brennan’s deep passion and commitment, which has made a significant and longstanding impact on the New Orleans hospitality industry. This is what the Cvitanovich’s stand for.

A commitment through extraordinary leadership and a profound love for this culinary scene is what perfectly exemplifies this award, and through it, celebrates Ella Brennan’s contribution to New Orleans, and the foodservice industry as a whole.

Miss Ella Brennan, matriarch of the celebrated New Orleans restaurant family, is regarded as one of the most revolutionary restaurateurs in the world. She read, she researched, she talked and interacted, and most importantly, she listened, all while packaging the Creole charm into the stomachs of hungry New Orleans visitors and locals alike. Years later, three generations of Brennan’s, who have also experienced a rift in the family, control one of the most iconic restaurant lines in not only New Orleans history, but American history. With more than 17 establishments, the Brennan family, guided by their matriarch, Miss Ella, turned the city into an exciting eating destination.

-Megan O'Neill