Tiana’s Palace, revealed because the dream-come-true restaurant on the finish of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, truly exists. In New Orleans, African American delicacies pioneer and neighborhood builder Leah Chase—Disney’s real-life inspiration for Tiana—ran Dooky Chase’s along with her household, leaving a long-lasting legacy that has impacted generations.
Throughout io9’s Disney Imagineering journey with Disney Parks to rejoice Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, we have been hosted by Stella Chase, honorary Imagineer on the Princess and the Frog-themed attraction, to be taught extra about her mom Leah’s story throughout a dinner at Dooky Chase’s. “Just like Tiana, it was at all times my mom Chef Leah Chase’s—‘Princess Tiana’s’—dream to have a restaurant,” she stated. “It simply so occurred that her husband—earlier than he was her husband, he had an orchestra, a band, he liked music. He performed trumpet. However the struggle occurred and right now, his dad and mom wanted him to return into the restaurant. He by no means appeared to place that trumpet away, and that’s why we now have the trumpet in our bar space proper on the shelf: any alternative he needed to make the music within the restaurant or the play his trumpet—he did. It was that trumpet, that music that received my mom. My mom was at a perform the place my father’s band was taking part in and naturally, she walked in, and she or he was very fairly and she or he caught his eye. She danced with my father, and that was the love story.”
It was a surprise to get to know extra concerning the metropolis by means of the Chase household’s imprint on historical past and meals—a story that, like Disney’s Tiana and Prince Naveen, began with love. Stella Chase continued: “It simply so occurred that his dad and mom had a restaurant they’d opened. And so she got here into the restaurant enterprise by means of her lover’s coronary heart and lover’s household, and have become a part of the restaurant. And that fulfilled her dream. She labored in eating places, however she had by no means been capable of accomplish the dream of coming in and proudly owning the restaurant. Her love for eating places [came when] she was in highschool; she used to stroll by means of the French Qaurter, taking a look at all of the eating places, taking a look at all of the tremendous eating. This gave her that chance to alter [what had been] a po’ boy stand, [a] family-owned small restaurant, into what she wished it to be: Tiana’s particular place. And that’s what we now have as we speak.”
The Chase household have been additionally very distinguished figures through the civil rights motion; everywhere in the partitions, among the many artwork, have been pictures of leaders, politicians, and activist writers. “Now, my household is an unimaginable household, simply as many New Orleaneans and lots of of you sitting in right here, you most likely might inform the story of your loved ones,” Leah Chase stated. “However my household was right here through the segregated time. My grandparents opened up the restaurant for African Individuals who had no place to return. However in addition they labored for the civil rights motion so that the doorways could possibly be opened for everybody. Until that occurred, we had the chance to serve so many African American entertainers and so many households who have been completely happy to return right here to rejoice. Musicians Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Lena Horne—the list goes on. Writers corresponding to James Baldwin; he had a nook on the bar the place he would sit and he would do his writing. We’re proud that we served and had the Freedom Bus drivers come right here, not solely to strategize, however to gas themselves with what they known as good meals. And one of many Freedom Fus riders not way back instructed me, ‘You know, it was tough and generally we went to jail, however the good factor was getting a po’ boy from Dooky Chase’.”
Princess Tiana’s subsequent chapter is significantly influenced by this real-life story. Disney Imagineering and storytellers labored intently with the Chase household over time to imbue Tiana with Leah’s love of neighborhood. Tiana’s Bayou Journey explores how the story of the little woman who made gumbo along with her dad to share along with her neighbors continues into her maturity, the place Tiana continues her act of service by means of meals for a Mardi Gras celebration. Stella Chase motioned round to the institution we sat in, having fun with dinner with people from so many alternative backgrounds. “This was the place that they at all times wished folks to really feel at residence. And naturally, as civil rights went on, integration occurred. We felt good about it, we fought laborious. My father went door to door getting folks to register to vote. So it was a good time, a time to rejoice. However there weren’t that many Caucasians or folks of different races that wished to return to African American institutions to see ‘what we’ve been lacking’,” she shared. “My dad and mom knew that they needed to make the neighborhood pleased with them once more, so that they expanded the restaurant. My mom received the chance to not solely dream about these fancy locations and eating places within the French Quarter, however to make her restaurant a spot that everybody would really feel snug coming in to. She at all times stated ‘We have a great product. They’ll come.’”
One other element we got a beautiful historical past lesson about is how Dooky Chase was one of many first locations to curate African American artwork. Chase defined, “African American artists weren’t allowed to show their artwork in every single place, so [my mother] stated, ‘When I open and increase, your artwork will come on my partitions.’ And so therefore, we now have all of the artwork,” she stated. She confirmed how that legacy continues, because the restaurant at the moment homes the first of the Tiana’s Bayou Journey items Disney commissioned from artist Sharika Mahdi.
Stella Chase honored not solely her mom however her grandmother, who believed in the ability of affection by means of acts of service. “We at all times reached out to our neighborhood. And each time that has occurred, we now have actually benefited from it. We did that when the banks weren’t too pleasant to African Individuals; they didn’t have financial institution accounts and couldn’t at all times money their checks. So my grandmother, with a cigar field, can be there with cash and a line of individuals with checks to money. I usually puzzled, ‘What did you do?’ The chip wasn’t good, however they didn’t need to fear about it. These have been payroll checks, and African Individuals wanted [somewhere] to position their verify. So down at that very same bar the place Ray Charles used to return in, James Baldwin, and lots of different musicians and writers, my grandmother pays the checks for the folks in the neighborhood. So we simply step up. The entire thing is: see what our neighborhood wants, and supply it for them.”
Appearing as her mom’s keeper and steward of the Chase legacy relating to working with Disney on Tiana, Stella Chase shared how Tiana has impacted her household in flip. “I believe it’s a blessing that we get everybody coming right here—everybody, each race, from everywhere in the world, coming right here. To start with, they inform me the historical past brings them right here, which is an effective factor. After which they are saying, ‘however I didn’t know the meals was this good’. Each single day we get somebody right here [who] involves see Tiana’s restaurant, and that’s the beacon to little women and even large males with t-shirts with Tiana on them. We’ve received folks from Ecuador. We’ve gotten folks from New Zealand. We’ve received folks from everywhere in the nation, everywhere in the world.”
As a customer I rapidly felt part of the neighborhood by means of consolation meals and the household I used to be honored to listen to tales about. Chase thanked everybody for visiting and holding area for Leah Chase’s affect on the Disney’s Princess. “We now have Disney magic happening. Because if we now have kids and grown folks coming right here due to Tiana, they’re not coming right here simply due to Tiana’s restaurant and the meals; it’s the worth. It’s what she meant to them, it’s the truth that despite no matter she went by means of, she discovered a approach to survive. And that’s what we now have to inform every one which we meet: that they’re vital. Dream large and you may make it occur.”
It’s a kind of magic that I hope will get sprinkled into all the Tiana-themed points of interest on the slate—together with the restaurant set to open in New Orleans Sq. at Disneyland.
Tiana’s Bayou Journey is about to open subsequent 12 months at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland.
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