Rolling Out

The Chase family inspired a fairy tale and built a legacy through food

Leah Chase’s family is carrying on her work
Stella Chase (Image by Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World Resort)

The first Black Disney princess, Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog was inspired by beloved New Orleans native Leah Chase. Disney storytellers drew from Chase’s storied life of dedication and commitment to her community and her passion for cooking Cajun and Creole cuisine that continues to draw families from across the country who are eager to visit the landmark restaurant, Dooky Chase’s, to get a taste of its famous food.

Affectionately known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” Chase died in 2019, but her legacy lives on through her family lineage and a new line of special seasonings. Disney continues celebrating Chase’s legacy with a brand-new attraction at Walt Disney World, and an upcoming “Tiana” series based on The Princess and the Frog that will allow fans to follow Tiana and Prince Naveen and their friends on a never-ending adventure.

Emily and Edgar “Dooky” Chase Sr. opened the restaurant in 1941 (Leah Chase married Dooky Jr. in 1946) to provide an array of local dishes popular with New Orleanians, but since then, Dooky Chase’s has become a national treasure having served its famous Creole gumbo to Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama along with scores of local and global dignitaries and A-list celebrities, including Beyoncé, Jay-Z , Quincy Jones, Ray Charles and too many more to mention.

As Juneteenth approaches, the Chase family sets a viable blueprint for generational wealth through the tenets of family, perseverance and community as evidenced by their family’s story being memorialized on both the silver screen and Disney streaming services.

By adapting Chase’s story for The Princess and the Frog, Disney integrated the family’s legacy into the entertainment powerhouse of television, movies and amusement park attractions.

“When the movie came out my grandmother was still here, so she had an opportunity to see it and to give her input. My grandmother always preached to us the ‘can do’ spirit. She believed if you have confidence, hard work and faith, you can do whatever you want to do. Our legacy is built on her love for family and community, and it’s our hope that other families will be inspired to do the same for themselves,” Edgar “Dook” Chase IV explains.

Leah Chase’s daughter, Stella Chase, wants other Black families to focus on working together as they pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

“My parents and grandparents didn’t have a bank at the time. Back then, African Americans didn’t trust banks, so we did a lot of things with cash and the barter system. We knew we couldn’t depend on banks for loans, and sadly, many times that’s the case now,” Stella Chase says. “My grandmother had to borrow from a vendor at the time. And then from the community embracing her, she was able to [re]pay that loan. That’s why the Chase family will always embrace community and family. You bring on your family members and give them responsibility and slowly you begin to create a legacy. You start with your family and then pull from the community.”

Stella Chase says things have slowly begun to change, but there is still more work to be done. “It’s so important for us to support African American banks. We bank with Liberty Bank, they are celebrating 50 years, so when we looked at expansion, we were able to go to them,” she shares.

“There are changes happening, although I did hear some disturbing news about members of the government attempting to stop funding for some women of color. It was actually my grandmother who got the money for the restaurant, but in those days women couldn’t sign for loans. It’s important to remember where we’ve come from and to know that our families must work together. For years we have supported our husbands and now it’s time for them to support us,” she adds.

The Chase family was legendary in their New Orleans community long before Disney became a part of their story. Today, Edgar Chase, Dooky Chase’s executive chef, says there is no secret to the family’s success. He says it’s easily traced back to the words his grandmother’s father told her.

“He told her to work hard, pray and do for others. That’s the advice I would give anyone wanting to build a legacy. Celebrate your culture, celebrate your tradition. People focus on the food when they see Dooky’s and certainly we love food, we love our community, but more importantly we love the people,” he explains.

“It only takes one step. But you have to work together,” Stella Chase reiterates.”When you work together, it only takes a small amount. You can’t do it alone. To build a legacy, you need to bring your other family members along, bring your community along.”

The Chase family inspired a fairy tale and built a legacy through food
Image by Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World Resort

Disney continues to develop Princess Tiana’s character and expand the story with the upcoming series starring Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose. The “Tiana” series will also feature the voices of legendary thespians Jenifer Lewis and Keith David.

To make the Chase family’s legacy a more tangible experience for Walt Disney World resort visitors, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will include Tiana’s Bayou General and the Critter Co-op featuring all of the unforgettable critters from The Princess and the Frog. On June 28, at the Critter Co-op, food enthusiasts and do-it-yourself chefs can purchase the family’s new line of Dooky Chase’s seasonings that are integral to Leah Chase’s unforgettable dishes. The line includes seasonings for fried chicken, meat and seafood, and a gumbo base that is sure to be a favorite.

“The goal is for people to buy the seasonings and go back home and experiment. We don’t want you to use the seasonings on dinner for one. Don’t just cook for yourself, invite people over to enjoy the food,” Chase IV quips.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will open to the public at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., on June 28. An accompanying gift shop will sell Tiana merchandise including the seasonings complete with special recipes from the Chase family. The amusement park focuses on the two main ingredients for both Tiana and the Chase family — food and music. The exhilarating ride details Tiana’s journey to find a group of musicians to play at her restaurant. Disney secured seven-time Grammy Award-winning jazz musician Terrance Blanchard and PJ Morton to compose new music for the experience. All the lovable characters from the film have starring roles in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure and its journey reflects on what the Chase family believes is the underlying message of Tiana’s story and their real-life legacy.

“Just like you go over the ups and downs on the Tiana ride, but you keep going — it’s the same way in life. You are always going to face obstacles, hurdles and challenges, but you keep going,” Stella Chase says.

Images by Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World Resort

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