Restaurateur Leah Chase is something of a legend these days, receiving award after honor after accolade for her work running Dooky Chase pretty much since forever. (Or, since 1946, when she married Edgar "Dooky" Chase II. His family opened the restaurant in 1941.) But at 89 years young, Chase "greets it all with gratitude, but also with a dash of the characteristic feistiness that keeps the people around her on their toes."
Her life and her legacy is the subject of an excellent cover story in this week's Gambit, by the alt paper's resident food guy Ian McNulty. McNulty charts the course of her life from growing up in Madisonville during the Great Depression, through moving permanently to New Orleans, working a number of odd jobs before marrying into the Dooky Chase family. From there, the focus is on the role the restaurant, and Leah, played in the Civil Rights movement:
The restaurant also soon became a hotbed for civil rights activists, both black and white, who crammed into a small second-floor dining room in a camelback portion of the building for planning sessions, their mixed-race meals there breaking segregation laws in the process. Chase herself is low-key about the history that transpired under her roof and over her food.As McNulty writes, her dedication to making Dooky Chase an upscale restaurant that welcomed anyone has never wavered, despite the decline of the nearby housing projects in the '80s and Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods in '05. The ultimate takeaway is that she earned every accolade and more, but hasn't allowed any of it to slow her down or change her attitude.
The full article is available online. If you haven't yet, take a couple minutes and read it. Now.