Visiting with Leah Chase
On the last day of my visit a couple of weeks ago, I stopped in to visit with Mrs. Leah Chase of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. I had visited with Mrs. Chase, in her FEMA trailer, on my last visit, but hadn’t been smart enough to tape it then. This time I wised up and video taped our chat.
Dooky’s (as it’s known around Creole New Orleans) is an historic restaurant in the equally historic Tremé neighborhood. It was the only fine dining establishment open to people of color before the civil rights fight of the 1950’s and 60’s ended segregation and opened other establishments. It became a gathering place for black entertainers and politicians. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. met there with local civil rights leaders to plan strategy when he was in New Orleans, and his father had dined there before him with his friend, Thurgood Marshall. Dooky’s is also known for its collection of fine art.
Mrs. Chase has captured my imagination (along with many others across the city and the nation), as she toils passionately to restore the restaurant which she feels is key to restoring the neighborhood where it stands. While I was in the city in January of 2007, it was announced that Starbuck’s had given her a very sizable grant to restore Dooky Chase’s, and she told me that she had received donations, large and small, from all across the country. There’s a huge photo of Mrs. Chase with candidate Barack Obama above the exit of the place, and the former President, George W. Bush, held a special dinner there on the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I guess he liked it so much, he came a few months later, and hosted a breakfast for Mexican President Philip Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
I’ll be sharing bits of our conversation over the next few posts.