Dooky Chase still located in heart of New Orleans 80 years later
Home is where the dinner table is — and for almost 80 years, people from all over the world have found themselves home at Dooky Chase.
Built-in the heart of New Orleans, Dooky Chase survived countless challenges, representing the durable spirit of the restaurant’s founders, Edgar and Emily Chase. Dooky Chase has served as a testament to the restaurant’s principal idea that no matter how tough things get, everything can be resolved over a good bowl of gumbo.
Since its inception in 1941, Dooky Chase has always had community in mind.
Its founders loved gatherings and wanted to create a place for African Americans to come and enjoy themselves. From the beginning, African Americans came to Dooky Chase to celebrate birthdays, graduations, weddings and even cash their checks on payday. And when ticket master opened in 1976, Dooky Chase was the place where African Americans bought tickets to New Orleans events.
“Back then, African Americans, didn’t have many places to cash their check and many of them did not have bank accounts,” said Stella Reese, a third-generation Chase who started working at her family’s restaurant after Katrina devastated New Orleans 15 years ago. “They came on Fridays to cash their checks and of course buy drinks and have a good time,” said Reese.
Dooky Chase was also famous for being one of the few places in the area where Black artists could see their work displayed prominently.
“My mother loved art,” said Reese. “When we expanded the restaurant, we had walls of art made by African Americans for the artists who needed a place to display their art. To this day our walls are still full of African American art.”
Not only artists, but musicians, politicians, and civil rights activists flocked to Dooky Chase as it became known as the place to eat and meet in New Orleans. Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, James Baldwin, Lena Horn, and Ray Charles all walked through the doors of Dooky Chase.
Charles even mentioned Dooky Chase in his song “Early in the Morning” when he said, “I went to Dooky Chase’s to get something to eat/The waitress looked at me and said Ray you sure look beat.”
“We were always listening to what the community needed,” Reese said as she recalled her parents registering people to vote at Dooky Chase. “They were very active in the civil rights movement,” she continued, “and of course, we had the freedom bus riders who came to New Orleans, and of course they needed a place to eat. Dooky Chase was the place that fed them. If any of them had to go to jail and did not have food, we made sure they got it.”
All of the presidents, activists, musicians, and anybody who wandered through Dooky Chase’s doors knew that they had to try the gumbo. The gumbo is a Chase family recipe that began with the restaurant and continues to be one of their staple dishes.
“My mother said we were actually able to solve all of our problems over a bowl of gumbo,” she said, reminiscing. “But if there are things in the gumbo that you don’t like, we can always take care of your dietary needs. Now, we even serve gluten-free fried chicken.”
“Everybody loves our fried chicken, so we want everybody to be able to taste it and enjoy it.”
As Dooky Chase enters its 80th year, the owners plan on reopening the historic upper room, where civil leaders met. It was unfortunately destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. Although COVID-19 has considerably slowed down the renovations, they hope the 80th year will be a new beginning.
“It was around the kitchen table, family gatherings, which was in the home. We shared meals. We shared recipes,” Reese said. “For African Americans, food is a comfort thing because we didn’t have too many other comforts.”
Dooky Chase owners hope to share that comfort for many years to come.
“We are determined. The third, fourth, fifth (generation), and anyone who comes behind us, to keep this legacy alive to continue to do whatever we can to improve our community and bring all people together,” said Reese.