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Monday, September 21, 2015

Willie Mae’s Scotch House’s Willie Mae Seaton dies

Posted By on Mon, Sep 21, 2015 at 6:27 PM

Willie Mae Seaton, of Treme institution Willie Mae's Scotch House, died this week, family members confirmed. - COURTESY WILLIE MAE'S SCOTCH HOUSE
  • Willie Mae Seaton, of Treme institution Willie Mae's Scotch House, died this week, family members confirmed.

Willie Mae Seaton, of the fried chicken institution Willie Mae’s Scotch House (2401 St. Ann St., 504-822-9503) has died. She was 99.

Seaton’s great-granddaughter Kerry Seaton-Stewart, who runs the Treme restaurant and its Uptown outpost, confirmed Seaton died on Friday, Sept. 18.  

Seaton was born in Crystal Springs, Mississippi and moved to New Orleans with her husband in her 20s, during WWII. While her husband worked at a local shipyard, Seaton worked a variety of jobs including a long stint as a taxi driver, before opening the restaurant. 

“She was an entrepreneur,” Seaton-Stewart said. “She was extremely driven and hardworking and she did what she had to to keep the place going.”

Willie Mae's Scotch House opened in 1957, first as a as a bar, and later, following customer demand, as a restaurant.  Seaton tended the bar for about 15 years before finally 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. 

Her cooking gained the following of locals and tourists alike who praised the spicy, crunchy fried chicken, creamy white butter beans and the casual and friendly neighborhood atmosphere.

"Everyone loved her — her customers and her family.  She was hard-working, smart, and driven," Seaton-Stewart said. 

During the years, Seaton continued to run the restaurant with help from various family members, including her daughter, Lillie, who passed away in 1991. 
Her restaurant won the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classic award in 2005. Seaton has been featured on the Travel Channel, National Public Radio and the Food Network, among others.

The restaurant also gained notoriety from rebuilding efforts after the building was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the federal floods. The shop was rebuilt with the help of workers from the Southern Foodways Alliance and Mississippi chef John Currence, reopening in April 2007.

The restaurant garnered international accolades, and President Barack Obama dined at the institution while he was in town attending 10-year anniversary events for Hurricane Katrina. 

Last fall, Kerry Seaton-Stewart opened Willie Mae’s Grocery and Deli on St. Charles Avenue.

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