Food & Drink: Orlando According to Brendan O’Connor

Editor in Chief of, host of “Restaurant on the Radar,” co-host of “Bungalower and the Bus” on Real Radio 104.1 FM, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Who can turn the world on with his smile? The busiest man in Orlando, Brendan O’Connor. (ROBERTO GONZALEZ)

The ubiquitous Orlando celeb is adding “Food & Drink columnist with Orlando magazine” to his resumé. Here, the writer reflects on his motto, his heroes, and his greatest achievements—thus far.

What is your motto?

I think if you had asked me this a year or so ago I would have said, “Say yes to everything.” But that gets old really quickly because you find yourself overcommitted, super-tired, and fat because you never have time to eat healthy. Ha-ha! I say this with experience. But recently, my motto has evolved into, “Marie Kondo that shit.” If it doesn’t bring me joy or make my life better, then why do it? I say “make my life better” because I hate going to the dentist and the doctor, but sometimes you just have to turn your head and cough, you know?

Who are your heroes in real life?

I’ve always had a thing for Jane Goodall. I used to clip her articles out of “National Geographic” as a kid and put them in a special little “Janie Goods” Bible I had under my bed. I didn’t hide it because I was embarrassed, I just wanted to keep it special just for me. I love people who find a purpose in this life just by being themselves and shining brightly. Impact through love is a great thing to strive for. Other real-life heroes that deserve a shout-out are Candy Chang, Majora Carter, Jane Jacobs, and personal friends who have had a big impact on my life who recently passed, including Billy Manes, Doug Bowser, and Sam Singhaus.

Who are your favorite writers?

I think Neil Gaiman is a magician. His writing has this “around the campfire” intimacy that tickles that lizard brain at the back of my head. I love everything he does, even his children’s books.

Speaking of lizards, Christopher Moore’s “Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” needs to be made into a Netflix series or a Fringe show, it’s so absurd and funny and absolutely delicious. I think James Gurney’s “Dinotopia” series are lovely, and I was raised on Brian Jacques and his “Redwall” series of talking animals. Oh, and Anne Rice, because of her sexy vampires with sexy vampire problems.

What is your greatest fear?

At the risk of getting too real, I think I’m mostly afraid of dying and there being nothing afterward. Like, how sad if we spend this life growing and building and trying to be our best selves, and then there’s just nothing afterward. The death of the ego and sense of self is super scary to me. But also, so are heights and enclosed spaces. I did that Over the Edge event where you rappel down the side of Orlando Health and I thought I was going to die. I’m glad I did it, but it just reinforced that I don’t belong above the ground.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I think my favorite days are when I can sit on the floor, and just make things. I have bins of half-finished projects like mixed-media paintings, papier-mâché masks, shrinky dink jewelry, and antique finds that I like to glue onto random things around town. There’s a pole across from the Downtown YMCA that’s covered in ceramic birds that I put there because Mills 50 Main Street made the mistake of asking me to dress it up. Those days are so fun and mission-driven and full of exploration and mistakes and getting messy. Those are great days. Or lounging on an inflatable swan and drifting down a Florida spring with a cold beer. Also, good.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

A full cup. I hate when you meet people, and they are just unable to receive anything—like a new thought or a new concept. They’re just full-up with their preconceptions and beliefs, and they just can’t make room for anything else. That’s so sad to me. I think we need to be open to things all the time, like little human sponges. That’s hard to do though, and it takes a lot of presence of mind. Which is probably why it bothers me so much because if you can’t receive anything, it’s because you aren’t willing to really BE with me in the moment. I also hate people who throw cigarettes out their windows when they’re driving. Keep your trash in your car, Mary.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I’ve been really lucky. I live a life where I get to dream something up and then make it happen. We hosted the first big series of drive-in movies during the pandemic and used it to launch our membership program. Huge success. I wrote a book this year with my longtime friend and radio co-host, Jon Busdeker, called “100 Things to Do in Orlando Before You Die.” I had a TV show come out this year too called “Restaurants on the Radar” for VeryLocal on Roku. I’ve won some awards, some from this magazine, like “Ones to Watch” in the 50 Most Powerful People issue, and I helped to create a new home for McRae Artist Studios over in Parramore that I’m pretty proud of. I think one of the things I’m most proud of is a mosaic mural I built with an amazing local artist, Janis Nunez, at the entryway to the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka. We built it using donated materials from migrant workers in the area and embedded it with computer chips that you can scan with your phone to hear video interviews with the participants, including some of the nuns who ran the center and have since passed away.

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