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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 annemarie@southernfoodways.org.

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Willie Mae Seaton with Hazel Mae White

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

For nearly fifty uninterrupted years, Willie Mae Seaton presided on Saint Ann Street in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward, first as the bartender at Willie Mae’s Scotch House and then, following an expansion, as the establishment’s chef. At one point in its history, the Scotch House topped out at five employees, including Willie Mae’s late daughter Lillie, but the proprietress eventually scaled back. “I don’t like no big, big restaurant,” she explained.

Just prior to Hurricane Katrina, Willie Mae’s son, Charles, and her granddaughter, Kerry, tended to the twenty-eight customers the restaurant could accommodate at one sitting, while Willie Mae herself, at eighty-nine years old, fried chicken to a stunning crisp, seasoned red beans with garlic and pickle tips, and simmered okra and tomato into summery gumbos. Our conversation occurred about eight months after Katrina. Willie Mae was staying with her good friend Hazel Mae White at the time; meanwhile, a few blocks away, Chef John Currence and an army of volunteers spent weekends rebuilding the flooded Scotch House—along with Willie Mae’s attached home—using funds donated through the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Date of interview:

Sara Roahen

Sara Roahen

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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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