In New Orleans, Leah Chase‘s name was synonymous with her famed Dooky Chase restaurant. With being a civil rights activist who housed hundreds of individuals in the movement right above her kitchen.
A matriarch with a warm smile and affection for anyone who came her way, Chase was seen as a mentor and most importantly, a beacon of what many believe New Orleans to be.
Chase died on Saturday, surrounded by family and friends. She was 96.
Her family released a statement saying, “While we mourn her loss, we celebrate her remarkable life, and cherish the life lessons she taught us. 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.”
The Dooky Chase, which began as a family’s barroom on Orleans’ Avenue in New Orleans became a cultural landmark in the city, mainly due to Chase herself. Tourists who have bucket list aspirations, U.S. presidents such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama and more.
Her work ethic became more than admirable as she continued to cook well into her 90s. “When I wake up in the morning, I don’t ask God what I want anymore, I tell him,” she once said. “I say ‘I want to go out and work.’ Then I go home at the end and say, ‘Thank you, God.’”
The oldest of 11 children, Chase worked many odd jobs in New Orleans before her husband, Edgar “Dooky” Chase II’s grandparents opened the Dooky Chase in 1941. There, she instilled the same type of work ethic and hospitality she established from her previous jobs and made the Dooky Chase a marquee destination restaurant. It was there that several meetings for planning took place.
More than New Orleans food legend, Chase’s name became woven into the rich history of the city as in later years, she would be behind podiums in recognition of her long-lived, fantastic life.
“It makes me feel good, it makes me feel like I have accomplished something, like I have performed service to someone else,” she once explained. “When people come back and tell me they remember something I told them, that makes me so happy. I stuck with them in some way.”
She preceded in death by her husband, Edgar, who died in 2016 at age 88.
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