In 1941, African-American workers in New Orleans had few places they could go to cash their checks. Other businesses—such as Dooky Chase’s Restaurant—stepped in to cash their customers’ weekly wages. Every Friday, men lined up at Emily and Edgar “Dooky” Chase’s eatery, paychecks in hand, and ordered themselves a drink while waiting for one of their po’ boys. The occasion was said to be a “rip-roaring good time.”
The Chases’ business began in 1939 as a sandwich shop. Two years later, the couple moved the operation to Orleans Avenue. When their son, Edgar (also “Dooky”) Chase Jr., took over the restaurant with his wife, Leah, in the 1950s, they transformed the space into an upscale celebration of local cuisine and artwork. Leah had waitressed in the city’s French Quarter, learning the nuances of fine dining and noticing the cluster of expensive, whites-only eateries. Dooky Chase’s became one of the few formal establishment that welcomed African-Americans.
Throughout 1950s and ’60s, most interracial assembly was forbidden by the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, but the Chases invited guests and activists of all races. The faces gracing their dining room are a testament to its role in the civil rights movement. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Bus Riders met at Dooky’s in secret. New Orleans progressives organized there regardless of race, from local lunch counter protestors to the brains behind the 1955 Godchaux sugar refinery strike.
Leah became known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” dishing up New Orleans classics such as Chicken Creole, gumbo, Shrimp Clemenceau, and specialties such as gumbo z’herbes, served in honor of Holy Thursday. The city’s African-American artists also venerated Leah for providing the first public place in which they could display their work. Museums were historically segregated, and Leah was 54 the first time she entered an art museum, but no barriers deterred her from appreciating art, or from turning the walls of her restaurant into a gallery.
Dooky Chase’s survived a small bomb in 1965 as well as Hurricanes Betsy and Katrina (though the latter shut them down for two years). The restaurant fed diners ranging from presidents (Barack Obama and George W. Bush) to singers (including Nat King Cole and Ray Charles). In 2016, Dooky passed away at the age of 88. Leah followed in 2019, at 96 years old. She supervised the restaurant well into her 90s, and the establishment remains owned and operated by her family today.
Know Before You Go
Dooky Chase's is open Tuesday through Friday for buffet-style lunch and Fridays nights for dinner.