Betsy McDaniel, owner of Betsy's Pancake House in Mid-City, died May 28 at West Jefferson Medical Center from injuries she received during an attack and robbery in her Marrero home in the early hours of May 26. She was 72.
Since McDaniel opened her namesake restaurant in 1989, the restaurant has served grits and flapjacks to a cross-section of locals and visitors, including President George Bush in August 2006, around the first anniversary of Katrina. Bush's visit to the reopened pancake house made news for an exchange in which longtime server Joyce Labruzzo asked, "Mr. President, are you going to turn your back on me?" ("No, ma'am, not again," Bush replied, in a response reprinted around the world.)
The restaurant had taken on 62 inches of water in the aftermath of Katrina. McDaniel told Gambit Weekly's Ian McNulty at its 2006 reopening: "That's a lot. I'm only 61-and-a-half inches tall myself."
Betsy's has been closed since McDaniel was attacked, and an impromptu shrine with flowers and cards has taken shape at its front door. Mayor Ray Nagin released a statement that read, in part, "My deepest condolences are with the family and friends of Mrs. Betsy McDaniel. Mrs. McDaniel was a fixture in our community. I was honored to bring the President of the United States to eat at her restaurant. That made her smile."
"Betsy's is a New Orleans treasure, just as Miss Betsy herself was a treasure," said Lorin Gaudin, host of the All About Food radio show on WRNO-FM. "She always made you feel like you were sitting in your aunt's kitchen."
McDaniel reportedly was attacked in her home by robbers looking for a safe containing money from the restaurant. Jefferson Parish Sheriff's detectives are expected to conduct a multi-jurisdictional investigation into the McDaniel murder. Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's office at 364-5300 or Crimestoppers (822-1111 or 1-877-903-7867), which is offering a reward for information.