The World Mourns The Loss Of New Orleans Restaurant Matriarch Leah Chase
By DeAnna Taylor
New Orleans and Black chefs around the world recently lost a significant staple to their history. Leah Chase, the matriarch of the popular NOLA soul food spot Dooky Chase, passed away over the weekend.
Mrs. Chase, 96, made her way into the Big Easy’s food scene back in the ’40s. She and her late husband, Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., took over Chase’s family sandwich shop in the city’s Treme neighborhood.
The couple eventually transformed the casual sandwich shop into an elegant sit-down establishment that featured some of the city’s best Creole cuisine. The space also served as an art gallery for African American Artists.
Of course, this was a rare accomplishment for a Black business in those times.
“When I came I said, ‘No, we gonna do like we do on the other side of town. We gonna change things,” Chase said in an interview with CNN last year. “That took a lot of doing, but we did it, and I insist on service.”
The restaurant became the meeting space for activists of all races in the 60s when racial tensions were high. Blacks and whites were able to gather in a safe space while enjoying a meal, something you didn’t hear of very often.
Mrs. Chase’s list of accomplishments goes on forever. She was able to serve a number of distinguished guests over the years including President Barack Obama, Thurgood Marshall, Ray Charles, and many more. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum has created a permanent gallery in her honor.
For Disney fans, if you didn’t know, the Princess and the Frog movie was inspired by her too.
Mrs. Chase could still be found around the restaurant up until her passing. She found joy in going into the kitchen in the mornings to help prep for the day.
Her family issued the following statement via the restaurant’s website:
The Chase family is heartbroken to share the news that our Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother, Leah Chase, passed away surrounded by her family on June 1, 2019. Leah Chase, lovingly referred to as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, was the executive chef and co-owner of the historic and legendary Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. She was a major supporter of cultural and visual arts and an unwavering advocate for civil liberties and full inclusion of all. She was a proud entrepreneur, a believer in the Spirit of New Orleans and the good will of all people, and an extraordinary woman of faith.
Mrs. Chase was a strong and selfless matriarch. Her daily joy was not simply cooking, but preparing meals to bring people together. One of her most prized contributions was advocating for the Civil Rights Movement through feeding those on the front lines of the struggle for human dignity. She saw her role and that of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant to serve as a vehicle for social change during a difficult time in our country’s history. Throughout her tenure, Leah treasured all of her customers and was honored to have the privilege to meet and serve them.
While we mourn her loss, we celebrate her remarkable life, and cherish the life lessons she taught us. The Family will continue her legacy of “Work, Pray, and Do for Others.”
Grateful To You,
The Chase Family
The food world has truly lost one of its greats.
DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel blogger, author, and writer. While Charlotte, NC (her hometown) is her base, she's always somewhere on a plane. Catch her on IG: @brokeandabroadlife.