Willie Mae’s, which was converted by Seaton from a beauty parlor into a bar in 1957, soon turned into a neighborhood restaurant after guests smelled Seaton’s cooking from her house next door, and her fried chicken soon became the stuff of legend.
Made with a wet batter recipe that Seaton kept closely guarded, the shatter-crisp chicken grew to be renowned in the city, and in recent years it’s garnered national acclaim. And with its laid-back neighborhood vibe, the Treme restaurant itself became a hit with locals and tourists alike.
Seaton was involved in the restaurant’s day-to-day operation until Hurricane Katrina struck the city in 2005, devastating the building as well as Seaton’s home. A fleet of volunteers organized by the Southern Foodways Alliance and led by Mississippi chef John Currence helped to get Seaton and the restaurant back on their feet, and it reopened two years later looking much the same as it did before the storm.
Seaton’s great-granddaughter Kerry Seaton-Stewart took over the restaurant upon its reopening, and last year she opened a second location on St. Charles Avenue. President Obama visited the restaurant while in town to commemorate Katrina’s 10th anniversary in August, further cementing its legendary reputation.
Seaton is survived by her sons Charles and Eddie, eight grandchildren, and “numerous great-grandchildren,” according to the Times-Picayune.