So much of what makes New Orleans unique is influenced by African retentions—especially the food. As a documentary produced by Dillard University students aptly points out, Black hands have been stirring pots in New Orleans since its founding. Whether you call it Creole cuisine, Soul food, or just plain ol’ good, African-American families across New Orleans are preserving OUR traditions by cooking up the recipes we love. Here is a look at how four such families honor the culture of cooking and their respective family’s legacy in the local restaurant business.
by Brittany Lampkin
The New Orleans Tribune
Barrow’s was established in 1943 when William Barrow, Sr. and Mary Barrow opened Barrow’s Shady Inn on Mistletoe Street in the Hollygrove neighborhood. Billed as a restaurant and bar, the original Barrow’s was more of the latter—a bar that sold hot fried catfish with bread and potato salad out of the back door for 50 cents.
It didn’t take long, however for the crispy catfish and delectable potato salad to become the star of the show.
William and Mary’s granddaughter, Deirdre was born and raised right next to the Barrows restaurant. By then, her father, William “Billy” Barrow, Jr.,had taken over the business.
“I was born cooking,” Deirdre says, adding that she joined the family business as a teenager. At about the same time, 19-year-old Kenneth Johnson began working at Barrow’s as a cook. Johnson says he was insecure about how he fit in because he wasn’t a Barrow.
Still, Deirdre’s father taught him everything he knew. And eventually, Kenneth Johnson would become an official part of the family when he and Dierdre married.
In 1995, Kenneth and Deirdre Barrow Johnson took more active roles in running the family business. Until 2004, catfish and potato salad were still the only items on the menu. Soon after expanding the menu, they opened a second location. Then, Katrina hit, and both were closed.
The Johnsons established a few other businesses throughout the years, but after 13 years, they returned to the restaurant industry.
In 2018, they started offering upscale Creole dining at a new Barrow’s located on Earhardt Boulevard. The restaurant offered a new, more modern dining experience, but recently closed as the Johnsons prepare to open a new location in New Orleans on Poydras and Loyola.
In the meantime, Barrow’s in Jefferson Parish on Lapalco Boulevard is open for business and has attracted a quite a following as customers, new and old, visit the establishment.
Of course, plates piled with catfish and a side of savory potato salad still take centerstage at Barrow’s, where the menu also features gumbo, corn and crawfish bisque, fried shrimp, oysters, seafood pastas, poboys, and red beans and rice (only on Mondays), along with a full Sunday brunch menu.
The Johnsons say that although it is not necessary for their children to carry on the legacy, they appreciate that they do. Their children Destin and Kenneth III work at the restaurant.
“Upon reopening, they were excited to get involved, and they naturally flowed in the kitchen, as if my ancestors had manifested themselves in them,” Deirdre Barrow Johnson says.
Destin and Kenneth III, who represent the fourth generation of the Barrow family, share how their interest has grown.
Destin, 28, now leads the front of the house and says she didn’t realize there were so many components to running a restaurant. Her work at Barrow’s also gives her a fresh perspective and a respect for others who work directly with customers, she says.
Kenneth III, 29, always wanted to be a businessman but realized his business was in the kitchen. When it comes Barrow’s, Kenneth says he is passionate about the family business and helping to create the tastes that customers have come to love and expect.
“The kitchen is the heartbeat.” Kenneth Johnson, III, says. “It’s important to pour into young people, to love and care for them. It’s not easy at all; no matter how much experience you have, you will still have challenges.”
Deirdre Johnson adds, “I am so grateful for what my forefathers left me; I honor them, but truly none of this would be possible today without Kenneth Johnson Jr. My father poured everything he knew into him.”
Barrow’s is open daily: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday – Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday at Saturday; and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Dooky Chase Restaurant
Dooky Chase Restaurant started as a poboy shop in 1941 founded by Emily Tanet Chase and Edgar Lawrence Chase Sr., who grew up in the Treme community.
Fine dining came into the business in 1946 after their son Edgar L. Ill brought his wife, Leah Chase into the business. Edgar III and Leah would go on to have four children and 15 grandchildren, and 28 great grandchildren.
And these days, those children, grandchildren and even great-grand children—cross-generational members of the Chase family—are “holding down the fort” and keeping the Chase family legacy flourishing, says Stella Reese, Edgar Jr. and Leah’s daughter.
While the daily lunch buffet at the historic restaurant has been discontinued — a casualty of COVID-19, many of the items once featured and others are still available on the menu for lunch and dinner.
Edgar Chase IV is the executive chef. He also owns and operates other restaurant holdings as well, including Dook’s Burgers and Leah’s Kitchen, both located inside the Louis Armstrong International Airport. The latter is a nod to his late grandmother Leah, known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine”. There, travelers, especially those who won’t get a chance to visit the Dooky Chase at the corner of Orleans Avenue and North Miro Street, can get a taste of Creole and Southern staples like fried chicken, gumbo, and red beans and rice.
Another of Leah and Edgar Jr.’s grandchildren, Tracie Hydel Griffin, helps handle operations for the restaurant; and Eve Marie Hydel manages the cocktail bar at the restaurant. They are among fourth generation Chases who have joined the business first opened by their great-grandparents more than 80 years ago.
Tracie says because of the way they were brought up, they could never imagine any member of the family deciding not to continue the legacy.
Zoe Chase is a sous chef at the restaurant as well. At age 22, she represents the fifth generation of the Chases to work at the restaurant. She is grateful for the legacy her family has left. She does not take it for granted, she says.
Her earliest memories include running around the kitchen and the bar and taking pieces of chicken and cherries off the bar.
Her desire is to always give back to the community and to one day have a restaurant like her great grandmother did.
“I am so grateful to have my family with me everyday, and as I grow older I realize it won’t always be that way,” says Zoe. “I want to be kind, positive, work hard, do for others, and always step with love in my heart.”
Stepping with love is already a part of Zoe’s family legacy.
The Chase family has come together to operate much more than a restaurant. Before Leah and Edgar Jr. passed, the family established the Edward “Dooky” and Leah Family Foundation to continue to promote the social change and progress that their parents and grandparents championed.
The foundation focuses on creative, visual, and culinary arts, and social justice.
Dooky Chase is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
A popular establishment, Lil’ Dizzy’s is owned and operated by a family whose roots in New Orleans date back centuries. Located in the heart of the oldest Black neighborhood in America, Lil Dizzy’s is the latest love letter from the Baquet family to New Orleans written in the universal language we all understand – food.
In 1947, Wayne Baquet Sr.’s great aunt Ada Baquet Gross and her husband Paul opened Paul Gross Chicken Coop, a 24-hour spot at Bienville and North Roman streets, Wayne’s father, Eddie Baquet, Sr., helped his sister and brother-in-law in the restaurant when he wasn’t working at the post office.
Almost 20 years later in 1966, Eddie Baquet, Sr., would become the next generation of his family to open a restaurant. He quit his postal service job and sold his family’s home to open Eddie’s, a restaurant and bar. The family lived in rooms behind the business and everyone pitched in to run the establishment, including Wayne, Sr., who left the family business for a while, but returned to help operate Eddie’s and ultimately expand the Baquet name across New Orleans as one synonymous with food.
Over the years, Wayne Baquet Sr. has owned eight different restaurants. His love for food and for the Treme neighborhood came together when he opened Lil Dizzy’s in 2005. Under his ownership, Dizzy’s was best known for its daily buffet that featured classic Creole and soul food dishes like fried chicken, fried fish, baked macaroni, red beans, white beans, smothered okra and, of course, gumbo. Daily specials like Trout Baquet and menu mainstays, such as poboys and fried seafood platters, were also favorites.
In addition to the menu items, Baquet himself could also be found at the restaurant almost daily, seating customers and keeping things moving in both the kitchen and the dining area. His hands-on approach was arguably one of the key’s to the restaurants successful 15 plus year run.
Then the pandemic hit, and the economic slow down took its toll. Wayne Baquet, Sr. decided to close Lil’ Dizzy’s – a “for sale” sign was placed on its shuttered doors in late 2020.
He recently reflected on the decision.
“You have to know when to hold, when to fold, and when to keep going,” he says. “I have a good bit of energy that I can enjoy the rest of my life because I know I’ve done all the right things.”
One of those things he did right was to prepare the next generation to take over.
Instead of Lil’ Dizzy’s closing for good or being sold to someone outside of the family, Wayne, Sr.’s son and businessman, Wayne Baquet Jr., and his wife, Arkesha Baquet, stepped in and decided to reopen Lil Dizzy’s in early 2021, with Arkesha Baquet running the day-to-day operations.
Wayne Jr. says that taking over the business his father started was about continuing a legacy and maintaining a family business that could be passed down to future generations.
And while the self-serve buffet is a thing of the past, many of the flavorful dishes that patrons have come to know and love are menu mainstays. Much like her father-in-law, Arkesha Baquet can be found at the Esplanade Avenue restaurant most days — greeting customers and keeping things moving.
She takes pride in everything being made in-house and cooked fresh daily.
Following recipes from the Baquet family cookbook, Arkesha says the food at Lil’ Dizzy’s is “flavored with heart and soul”. And while a few dishes have been updated, the consistent commitment to delivering excellent, authentic Creole dishes is the same.
Lil Dizzy’s is open from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Vance Vaucresson comes from a long line of butchers, including his great-grandfather Levinsky Vaucresson, who arrived from France to New Orleans around 1899 and opened a market stall where he cut and sold meat.
Vance’s grandfather, Robert Levinsky Vaucresson, continued the family heritage, and his father, Robert “Sonny” Vaucresson, transformed the meat market into the Vaucresson Sausage Company.
In October 1983, the family opened a factory in the Seventh Ward on the corner of St. Bernard Avenue and North Roman Street, where they made sausages and gumbo.
That very corner is where Lance and his wife Julie now operate The Vaucresson Creole Café & Deli, where they still make fresh sausage every day. Customers can take home packs of hot sausage, chicken sausage, crawfish sausage and Italian sausage–each made from family recipes that have been handed down for generations. Shoppers can also visit vaucressonsausage.com to have their favorite shipped to them.
Above the café are two permanently affordable housing units. Vance sees it as his family’s effort to contribute to community development and neighborhood preservation.
But the real contribution to community is arguably found Inside the café—a menu that features poboys made with any of the savory sausages cooked up at the deli along with other treats like boudin balls, sausage and bean dip as well as a line of mustards, including creole, Dijon, mango, pecan and green onion varieties of the perfect condiment to pair with sausage.
And while a dine-in eatery is new for the Vaucresson family, it’s flavorful sausage has been part of the New Orleans food landscape for more than 100 years as both a regular food vendor at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival as well as a supplier for many local markets and restaurants. Hint, if you have eaten a link of Italian sausage grilled to perfection on the now discontinued lunch buffet at Dooky Chase, you were eating Vaucresson sausage.
The family is also putting together a cookbook featuring its sausage offerings and other family favorites.
Vaucresson’ Café & Deli recently participated in a Black Restaurant Accelerator. The program was sponsored by the National Urban League and Pepsi Co. It not only provided a grant, but new energy and resources that have enabled participants to explore new ideas to expand their business and brand.
And while Vance and explore new ideas, a new generation of Vaucressons are reflecting on what their family’s 123-year history of making the food New Orleanians love to eat means to them.
Their three children represent a fifth generation of Vaucressons in New Orleans, who are proud of their legacy. And though they have not yet decided if they will be a part of the family business for their personal career choices, they still work at the café and deli when they school schedules allow.
Vance Jr., 20, is studying to be a chemical engineer but is also interested in carrying on the family business, he says.
While she has her sights set on a future in music, 17-year-old Hillary, 17, is excited to see her family’s legacy continue in the community and says she wants to be a part of that as well.
“The 7th Ward is one of New Orleans’ most communal areas,” she says. “It needs individuals who will support it.”
Julie Vaucresson’s advice to them and other young people, “Think outside the box. Keep your options open, have faith, and work hard.”