The LRA’s Restaurateur of the Year award goes to two – QED Hospitality dream team Emery Whalen and Chef Brian Landry
Photo courtesy of Brian Rome.
By Wendy Waren and Nicole Koster **Story originally posted on 11/15/2022
Native New Orleanians Emery Whalen and Chef Brian Landry bring their unique industry experiences to QED Hospitality. The restaurant operations management group focuses on running national F&B operations in boutique hotels. The pair’s ability to adapt quickly, and their desire to pay homage to the city’s rich culinary traditions, have earned them the LRA’s highest honor as Restaurateurs of the Year.
Separate career trajectories intercept in a restaurant
After graduating from Princeton, Whalen, now the CEO and Co-Owner of QED Hospitality, joined Teach NOLA to teach French and Spanish to high school students before becoming a hostess at Restaurant August in 2010.
Landry grew up in Lakeview, and started at 14 bussing tables at Tony Angelo’s. What followed was a long journey through many New Orleans restaurants, and culinary school in Charleston. It was after Hurricane Katrina that he had a six-year run as Galatiore’s Executive Chef. Following, he moved on to BRG to open Borgne, Willa Jean and the Caribbean Room (now transformed into Jack Rose at the Pontchartrain Hotel).
Also, at BRG on a parallel track, Whalen was working her way up through various management positions. She was drawn to Landry for the intelligence he brought to the company.
“We met about a decade ago and worked together for a long time,” said Whalen. “Brian was always my favorite chef to work with because he was open to our ideas.”
His ideas are inspired by Louisiana’s sportsman’s paradise. Landry’s appreciation for Louisiana seafood comes straight from the state’s bountiful waters. He loves to fish, and the joy of cooking what he’s caught is the ultimate reward.
“Brian has been an advocate for Louisiana and Gulf seafood for years now,” said Stan Harris, LRA President and CEO. “He has an understanding of conservation and fisheries management, and is able to see the issues from a chef’s perspective, although recreational fishing is a favorite pastime.”
On the plate is where Landry’s culinary acumen shines. He has served on the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, as well as traveled and testified about the need for more local seafood for the restaurant industry.
Partnership emerges from supporting each other’s strengths
It was those early days at BRG that laid the foundation for what the two would build together in QED Hospitality. In the beginning, I had an idea of what I wanted QED to feel like,” said Landry. “But it was Emery who had the intuition to write it all down.”
Landry attributes one of the keys to their success is the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. As CEO, Whalen is highly focused, and expertly tasked to convey their mission.
“She keeps us all marching in the same direction,” Landry said.
Whalen says, though they have distinctly different roles, “there isn’t as much of a front of house, back of house divide as you would imagine. He’s brilliant at some of the operations.”
The Ashley Longshore portrait of Lil Wayne with the Mile High Pie has become a fixture of the local restaurant. Photo courtesy Christian Horan.
While they try to stick to their core roles, “Emery works on the businesses and I work in the businesses,” Landry says. “It doesn’t always work out that way and you may have even seen Emery working a hostess stand at one of the restaurants and having input on the menus. Other times I may be the one to write a proforma and working on the P&L’s. We collaborate a lot.” Tony Abadie is a long-time friend and colleague of the QED pair and was the first person they brought into QED. Once a F&B executive himself, Abadie retired from the Hilton New Orleans Riverside after 34 years, and is now General Manager of Jack Rose Restaurant. It was Landry who talked him into returning to work just 32 days after retirement, but it was Whalen who needed to bless the move forward. He says it’s Whalen’s teaching experience that has helped lead QED, along with Landry’s culinary skills. “Brian is a culinary mad scientist and certainly elevates the cuisine,” Abadie said. “And, Emery’s skills as a teacher are extremely valuable. She’s really teaching us how to be successful in the QED business.” Melvin Rodrigue, Galatoire’s President and CEO, has followed the team since he worked with Landry and admires their special chemistry.
“The yin and the yang of how they approach their partnership is really something special,” Rodrigue said. “They work hard at what they do, and put the time in. But, on top of it, sometimes that’s not enough, you’ve got to be calm, cool and collected, and they are certainly that.”
Concepts in New Orleans, Nashville and now The Birthplace of Bourbon Since they formed QED Hospitality, they’ve launched Jack Rose, Hot Tin, The Silver Whistle Café and Bayou Bar at The Pontchartrain Hotel. The Thompson Hotel in Nashville is home to an upscale fine dining seafood restaurant Marsh House (named after Marsh House on Avery Island), a rooftop bar L.A. Jackson and a quaint coffee shop Killebrew. In November of 2021, they launched their newest venture The Kitchen Table, at the James B. Beam Distilling Co. in Clermont, Kentucky. The hustle and bustle of the restaurant world can be tough, but Landry loves the thrill of it all. The story of opening The Kitchen Table had somewhat of a snowball, some might say ‘barrel,’ effect. It started when Landry’s cousin, a Jim Beam Global Ambassador, offered him the two remaining barrels of his sales year. One was for The Pontchartrain and one for The Thompson. Landry accepted the barrels. That acceptance rolled right into a connection with Fred and Freddie Noe, the father-and-son Master Distiller team who are 7th and 8th generation of the Beam family. Before Landry knew it, he and his executive teams from each hotel were on their way to Clermont to hand-pick their barrels and tour the historic distillery. The Noe family welcomed everyone in with open arms, and next thing you know, QED was the F&B provider for the family’s new James B. Beam Distilling Co. Visitor Experience, and The Kitchen Table Restaurant was born. “It’s been 6 years since we opened a new restaurant,” Landry said. “It has been refreshing and incredibly difficult to get back into, but it’s an incredible opportunity to be part of the 8th generation long legacy of Bourbon.”
Pandemic pivot keeps QED staff working The pandemic forced the two to refocus their business efforts. They had spent several years building a strong momentum with a strong team, and then, like so many of their peers, the pandemic threatened their ability to keep everyone employed. Whalen’s brother works in the hospital technology sector. The siblings put their heads together and hatched a symbiotic plan to serve both companies once in-person dining service came to a halt. “What they managed to do was ingenious,” said Harris. “They retrained their hospitality staff to work in the telehealth space at a time when the medical sector was experiencing their own restrictions.” Abadie touted the flex of Whalen’s level of ingenuity, and her ability to preserve what she and Brian had worked so hard to create. “It’s no wonder they were chosen as the Restaurateurs of the Year,” said Abadie.
The rooftop bar Hot Tin at The Pontchartrain Hotel overlooks the St. Charles Avenue, and onwards to Downtown New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Christian Horan.
Overcoming adversity earns LRA’s highest honor While COVID-19 paused the LRA’s industry awards, 2022 LRA Chair Michael Boudreaux, and Past Chairs Peter Sclafani and Keith Bond, teamed up to share in the deliberations for a new cycle. When reviewing Emery and Brian’s work together, especially through the last two plus years, it was unanimous. Upon learning they were selected as the 2022 Restaurateurs of the Year, they both expressed gratitude and disbelief. “We’re just excited, it’s such an honor to be recognized by the family of the LRA,” said Whalen. Landry felt pure thanks, but also “shocked and surprised,” he said, “in a year when it feels like we’re working as hard as ever.” Harris admires the work they do to support the industry—Landry as a Gulf seafood advocate and Whalen as a volunteer leader on the LRA and LRA Education Foundation Boards. “The thing that I respect most about Emery is her positivity,” said Harris. “She’s upbeat, and when she enters the room she lights up and is ready to engage with her peers.” Landry knows being a part of the LRA enhances not only his restaurant’s prosperity, but the entire state. “The LRA helps remind you that you are not alone, and you are part of something that’s way bigger than yourself,” said Landry.