Willie Mae Seaton, of the fried chicken institution Willie Mae's Scotch House (2401 St. Ann St., 504-822-9503; www.facebook.com/williemaesscotchhouse) died Sept. 18. She was 99.
"She was an entrepreneur," said Seaton's great-granddaughter Kerry Seaton-Stewart. "She was extremely driven and hardworking and she did what she had to to keep the place going. ... Everyone loved her — her customers and her family."
Seaton-Stewart runs the restaurant and its Uptown outpost.
Seaton was born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, and moved to New Orleans with her husband in during World War II. While he worked at a shipyard, Seaton worked a variety of jobs including a long stint as a taxi driver. Willie Mae's Scotch House opened as a bar in 1957 and later became a restaurant. Seaton tended bar for 15 years before becoming its chef.
"(Bar patrons) would smell her food coming into the bar, and they'd beg and beg and beg her to open a restaurant," Seaton-Stewart said.
Seaton ran the restaurant with help from various family members, including her daughter, Lillie, who died in 1991. Her cooking attracted a following of locals and tourists who praised the spicy, crunchy fried chicken, creamy white butter beans and the casual and friendly neighborhood atmosphere.
The restaurant won a James Beard Foundation America's Classic award in 2005. Seaton has been featured on the Travel Channel, National Public Radio and Food Network, among others.
The restaurant also gained notoriety from rebuilding efforts after the building was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods. It was rebuilt with the help of workers from the Southern Foodways Alliance and Mississippi chef John Currence. It reopened in April 2007.
The restaurant garnered international accolades, and President Barack Obama dined at the institution while attending 10th anniversary events for Hurricane Katrina.