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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Donni Choate

Cajun Claws

Donni Choate, born in 1959, grew up in Abbeville, a small city in Vermilion Parish. In the early 1980s, he got involved in selling bait to local fishermen out of a storefront in the nearby community of Forked Island, which was fast becoming known for its abundance of select-sized crawfish. He soon became a crawfish broker, linking fishermen with distributors, who sold the mudbugs to restaurants throughout Acadiana.

In 1996, urged on by his wife, Jodi, Donni opened Cajun Claws in Abbeville. It’s a family operation, run by the Choates, their three sons, and Jodi’s mom. The restaurant’s specialty is crawfish, of course, sold in three and five pound servings. The crawfish are purged, spiced to your liking, and as big as they come. If select crawfish are not available, Cajun Claws resolutely does not open. The parking lot fills up hours before their doors open, with families creating their own tailgate-type atmosphere. Three-plus decades later, Donni still is works as a crawfish middleman. He speaks honestly about the increased price of crawfish and why select crawfish are harder to come by.

Date of interview:

Rien Fertel

Denny Culbert

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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