By Ethan Ellestad
Located at 2401 St. Ann Street, just two blocks off the path of the Lafitte Greenway, Willie Mae's Scotch House has been a culinary institution for more than 50 years. Willie Mae Seaton, the restaurant's namesake and proprietress for most of its long history, originally opened the famous business in 1956. By 2005, Willie Mae's was locally and nationally famous for its exquisite fried chicken, smothered pork chops, butter beans and other southern specialties. In May of the same year, the small, family-owned restaurant achieved what most other eateries can only dream about - it was honored by the James Beard Foundation, dubbed the "Oscars of the Food World" by Time magazine. Willie Mae Seaton was also honored at City Hall for her contributions to the city of New Orleans. Yet, only three months later, Hurricane Katrina flooded the restaurant, kitchen and bar with four feet of water, throwing the institution's future into doubt. With assistance from the Southern Foodways Alliance, the Seaton family reopened Willie Mae's Scotch House in April of 2007.
Upon reopening, Ms. Seaton turned over the daily operation of the restaurant to the able hands of her granddaughter, Kerry Seaton. Since that time, the accolades have continued, and Willie Mae's has been featured by the Food Network, which bestowed the honor of "America's Best Fried Chicken," the Travel Channel and Bon Appetit magazine. This increase in national attention has led to an increasing number of tourists stopping in for the famous fried chicken, though New Orleans natives still make up a large portion of the daily clientele. Celebrities, too, have made the pilgrimage to Willie Mae's, including Spike Lee, Magic Johnson, sports analyst Tony Kornheiser, R&B singers Genuine and Drake, and numerous actors and actresses.
The younger Ms. Seaton sees a bright future for Willie Mae's Scotch House, but she would love to see more traffic in the area. She envisions the section of the Treme and the Seventh Ward surrounding the restaurant transformed into a culinary and entertainment district, "where people come out in the evening and enjoy themselves, just like they do Uptown or in Mid-City." An increase of interest in the area, due in no small part to the Willie Mae's acclaimed cuisine, as well as the impending construction of the Lafitte Greenway, may soon make this vision a reality.
This post is a shortened version of the original, posted at the website of RTC partner StayLocal! New Orleans. Photo by Ethan Ellestad.