In 2019, Osayi Endolyn wrote “Counter Service,” a column examining how American dining culture is shaped by historic social practices that have often left out, or outright excluded, groups of people including women and African Americans. To conclude her series, she visits Willa Jean, Kelly Fields’s restaurant in New Orleans, to discuss the elements that make a dining experience successful. In the video, Endolyn asks, What is it about New Orleans restaurants like Dooky Chase's, Heard Dat Kitchen, and Coquette, that make us want to return?
Filmmaker and photographer L. Kasimu Harris recorded this video before COVID-19 radically changed the American dining scene, shuttering dining rooms from coast to coast and forcing restaurateurs to reinvent their business models. We share it today to honor and celebrate dining spaces for what they were, and we invite you to consider: When beloved places are taken away, how do we feel?
Willa Jean’s dining room re-opened in late May, and the restaurant announced a list of health protocols it plans to follow. What does it mean to return to places we love? In New Orleans, a city defined by its food culture, diners will soon find out.