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Edgar ‘Dooky’ Chase Jr., famed restaurateur and civic leader, dies

28th November 2016   ·   0 Comments

Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., a tireless civic leader and legendary restaurateur whose legendary restaurant was graced by everyone from the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to former Atlanta Mayor and U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young and President Barack H. Obama, passed away Tuesday, Nov. 22, at the age of 88.

With his charismatic wife, legendary chef Leah Chase, at his side, the couple transformed a former sandwich shop in the Faubourg Tremé into a world-famous restaurant where leaders of the Civil Rights Movement often met for late-night meals and princes and potentates gathered to sample some of the best cuisine the Crescent City had to offer.



Mr. Chase’s daughter, Stella Reese, said her father died Tuesday afternoon. Late Tuesday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu tweeted his condolences, calling Mr. Chase “patriarch of a great New Orleans family.”

Born in New Orleans, Mr. Chase was the second child of Edgar Lawrence “Dooky” Sr, and Emily Tennette Chase, who in 1939 opened a small sandwich shop in Faubourg Tremé that evolved into a major mecca for what is widely known as Creole cuisine.

Nearly eight decades after opening the sandwich shop, Dooky Chase’s soulmate and business partner Leah, who remains a daily presence in the restaurant’s kitchen well into her 90s, has earned every award imaginable and just last year won a lifetime achievement award from the James Beard Foundation. She is known the world over for her brand of New Orleans cuisine as well as for her involvement in the community.

Not even the construction of the Claiborne Avenue Overpass, which killed many Black businesses and destroyed a major Black business thoroughfare, or 2005’s Hurricane Katrina could keep the legendary Black-owned restaurant that is known as much for its style and ambiance as its flavorful culinary offerings down.

According to the restaurant website, Mr. Chase and his sister Doris worked closely with their parents and assisted with the operations of the family business. Mr. Chase delivered sandwiches throughout the neighborhood as a young man.

While the family is known for its culinary talents, it also was a musical family in which Dooky Chase Jr, began playing the trumpet and playing jazz as a young student at Joseph Craig Elementary School. He later played in the Booker T. Washington Senior High School Band and eventually established the Dooky Chase Orchestra, which featured his sister Doris Chase as a vocalist.

As fate would have it, Dooky Chase met his future wife while performing at a Mardi Gras ball in 1945. He married Leah Lange a year later and the two formed a partnership that has spanned seven decades and produced four children, Emily, Stella, Edgar “Dooky” Chase III and Leah.

Dooky Chase Jr.’s performances and connections to the entertainment industry prompted many music luminaries to grace the legendary restaurant including Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lena Horne and Nat King Cole,

WWL reported that the Chases have also been lauded for their role in the Civil Rights Movement, offering the restaurant as a meeting spot and refuge for community organizers as well as launching voter registration efforts. Mr. Chase was also the first African American to co-promote a musical concert that was held in the Municipal Auditorium. Billed as “The Greatest Show of 1949,” its lineup included Duke Ellington and his full orchestra.

The concert was enjoyed by a racially mixed audience during the era of segregation.

A tireless public servant, Dooky Chase Jr. served as Vice President of the New Orleans Tourist Commission from 1978 to 1983, was a board member of the Jazz and Heritage Festival and served as a member of the committee for the 1984 World’s Fair.

Funeral arrangements were still pending at press time.

This article originally published in the November 28, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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