Dooky Chase’s Restaurant opened its doors for business in 1941. What was initially a sandwich shop and lottery ticket outlet in 1939 blossomed into a thriving bar and later a respected family restaurant in Treme. Founded by Emily and Dooky Chase, Sr., Dooky Chase’s Restaurant soon become the meeting place for music and entertainment, civil rights, and culture in New Orleans.
In 1944, by the time Edgar Dooky Chase, Sr. was reaching his peak as an entrepreneur, his son Dooky, Jr., had already, at age sixteen, become well known for his sixteen-piece “transitional swing to modern jazz” band. Dooky’s band, with his sister Doris Chase as vocalist, was at one time the “most progressive in the South.” Dooky’s big band played the bebop sounds of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Dooky, Jr. had his father’s entrepreneurial spirit; and at age nineteen, he promoted the first racially integrated concert at the Municipal Auditorium.
Before the United States Supreme Court reversed its 1896 decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant had become the hot spot for discussing issues of civil and economic rights in the African-American community in New Orleans and throughout the country. Thurgood Marshall along with local attorneys such as A.P. Tureaud, Lionel Collins, Ernest “Dutch” Morial, and Revius O. Ortique, Jr. and later freedom fighters such as Reverend A.L. Davis, Reverend Avery Alexander, Oretha Castle Haley, Rudy Lombard, Virginia Durr, and Jerome Smith propelled civil rights and protests in the courts and on the streets of New Orleans. In the 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others would join these local leaders for strategy sessions and dialogue over meals in the upstairs meeting room at Dooky’s.
Economically, labor unions were very much in vogue especially the ILA- International Longshoreman Union led by Clarence Chink Henry. While the Mississippi River drove the economic fortunes of white-collar freight-forwarders and cotton and banana traders, it also drove the economic fortune of blue-collar workers in the New Orleans black community. Black workers on the river had few places to cash their checks. There were no black owned banks then; but there were black-owned bars like Dooky’s that had the cash flow and knew their patrons well enough to take a chance cashing paychecks every Friday. Dooky’s bar was packed with men standing in line to get a drink while waiting for their Po-boy sandwiches to go. Friday nights at Dooky’s became a rip-roaring good time where beer, whiskey, and wine flowed almost as fast as the current of the Mighty Mississippi.
In 1946, Edgar Dooky Chase, Jr. married Leah Lange Chase. Through the vision of Leah Chase, the barroom and sandwich shop grew into a sit-down restaurant wrapped within a cultural environment of African-American art and Creole cooking. Later known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase would introduce one of the first African American fine dining restaurants to the Country. In addition to her signature Creole Cuisine, Leah would begin to showcase African American Art throughout the walls of Dooky’s. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was the first art gallery for black artists in New Orleans.
Today Dooky Chase’s remains family owned and operated. After Hurricane Katrina Dooky’s did close for a two years to rebuild, but with assistance of many, Dooky Chase’s remains the premier restaurant for authentic Creole Cuisine.
The Chase Family enjoys serving its regular customers, tourists, and locals. They also remain a stopping place for politicians, musicians, visual artists, and literary giants. Dooky Chase’s has had the pleasure of serving Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Quincy Jones, Jesse Jackson, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin, Ray Charles, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the late Ermest Gaines, Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker, Keith David, Solange Knowles and a list of others.