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 family restaurant in Tremé. 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 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.
Before the United States Supreme Court reversed its 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant had become the hot spot for discussing issues of civil and economic rights in the African American community. At the time, it was illegal for white and Black people to sit together. But Leah Chase opened the doors to her restaurant and invited activists into the upstairs dining room.
From those strategy sessions, planned and scheduled activities propelled civil rights and protests in the courts and onto 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.
Leah Chase said, “Food builds big bridges. If you can eat with someone, you can learn from them, and when you learn from someone, you can make big changes. We changed the course of America in this restaurant over bowls of gumbo. We can talk to each other and relate to each other when we eat together.”