Germaine Wells

Just before Count Arnaud died, he let it be known that his successor was not to be the sheltered Lady Irma, but his anything-but-sheltered daughter Germaine. That choice leads one to believe that he wanted to keep the semi-scandalous stories flowing freely form the restaurant.

Only New Orleans could produce a Germaine Cazenave Wells. She was lusty, dramatic, loud and headstrong. Her taste and capacity for alcohol, celebration and men were extreme, even by the standards of today. She worshiped her father; the pair were certainly kindred spirits.

But the Count – and all other observers – doubted her ability to run a restaurant as large and complicated as Arnaud’s. But, fueled by a passionate imperative to maintain the reputation of her father’s masterpiece, she learned the business inside and out. And, even though her management style was somewhat Byzantine, she ran the restaurant with a strong hand for many years. Germaine had a way of attracting attention, and she adored the spotlight. She defined the restaurant business as theater. “It’s a play in two acts,” she said, “lunch and dinner.”

So it’s not surprising that her main achievement was in spreading the fame of Arnaud’s around the world. Everywhere she went, newspaper stories followed, always including accolades for Arnaud’s. Her greatest public-relations triumphs had Arnaud’s included among convincing lists of the world’s five greatest restaurants: first in a Paris newspaper then in a celebration of the two-thousandth birthday of Paris held in New York. To Germaine, the inclusion of Arnaud’s was natural.

“After all,” she said, “New Orleans is the Paris of the South.”In New Orleans, a city full of characters, she achieved one-name status. During the Fifties and Sixties (and still, among people of a certain age), if you referred to “Germaine,” everyone knew who you were talking about. She took to the mock-royal rituals of Mardi Gras like a fish to water. She ruled over 22 Carnival balls, an over achievement unlikely to be equaled. She instituted a parade of her own on Easter Sunday to show off her latest hats, with her friends following in horse-drawn buggies. That pageant continued after Germaine’s death and persists to this day.