Fried Chicken Royalty: Willie Mae’s Scotch House Brings Its Famous Wings To Los Angeles
It’s a long way to New Orleans from Los Angeles, but Willie Mae’s gets you there in a few crunchy, juicy bites. The James Beard Award-winning fried chicken joint is now serving its Southern-kissed wings and breasts in a new spot that’s like a West Coast branch of the bayou.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House is a New Orleans cultural landmark. Founded by Willie Mae Seaton in 1957, it has long been the go-to for NOLA locals and visitors on the hunt for fried chicken, mac and cheese, and the platonic ideal of butter beans. Willie Mae’s great-granddaughter Kerry Seaton-Stewart has been running the operation since 2007, although Willie Mae herself reigned as New Orleans culinary royalty until 2015, when she died at age 99.
I recently spoke to Seaton-Stewart about the new space near Venice Beach, part of a partnership with Jerry Greenberg (Sushi Nozawa Group) and Lowell Sharron (HiHo Cheeseburger).
Tell me about the move to Los Angeles.
Kerry Seaton-Stewart: People have been asking me to branch out for years, and I wanted to find a place that would sit right with our longtime customers, and also make my grandparents happy. L.A. and California fans of our food have been really good to us, and it just felt like a natural fit. When we looked at the demographics of our number one out-of-town guests, L.A. trumped everywhere else. It really wasn’t a hard sell.
It seems like a scary time to be a chicken in Los Angeles. There’s Nashville hot chicken, Korean double-fried, Japanese karaage, and plenty of good old-fashioned Southern-fried chicken places. Why do people love fried chicken so much?
Kerry Seaton-Stewart: Fried chicken is the best comfort food, I guess, and also a party dish. If you go to a baby shower or bridal shower or football party, there’s going to be some kind of chicken. It brings people together, whether you’re here on in New Orleans.
What makes Willie Mae’s chicken different?
Kerry Seaton-Stewart: The love is the first thing. That’s generations of love and you can taste it. The love has been passed down through time. But we also don’t put spices on the outside like a lot of places. It’s crispy on the outside and juicy and flavorful on the inside. That’s where the enjoyment is, I think. It also does not look like other fried chicken. It’s a little darker because of our wet batter. But I also think it’s a nostalgia moment. It’s a memory-making food.
What’s the most popular order?
Kerry Seaton-Stewart: The most popular dish is the signature, which is Taste of New Orleans. That’s two pieces of fried chicken with three sides and also cornbread. Right now, we’re also seeing a lot of orders for family-sized meals, which is around 10 or 12 pieces of chicken. You get more enjoyment when you share the love, you know?
The Los Angeles location is already booming. There’s often a line outside your Lincoln Boulevard spot. Are you thinking about other locations and cities? If so, where?
Kerry Seaton-Stewart: Oh, yes. We’re seeing that this is a formula that can work outside New Orleans. And we’ve already had some good results selling our items through Goldbelly. So, we’re looking and thinking about it. But I’m not quite ready to make any announcements.
This being L.A., you must have had some celeb encounters by now. Any leave you feeling starstruck?
Kerry Seaton-Stewart: We treat celebrities like everybody else, which is to say, we treat them right and appreciate that they’re coming for the best fried chicken in town. Honestly, I’m probably most starstruck by people in the culinary and hospitality world who come in. Those are my celebrities. But we have some guests, like Andre 3000, who bring out the fan in me. I’ve been a big fan of his since I was a kid and I had to tell him. I just hoping he’s as big a fan of our food!
Where else have you been eating in Los Angeles?
Kerry Seaton-Stewart: I’ll eat at Hi-Ho, for burgers, which I love. But there’s a little taco stand directly across the street from Willie Mae’s in Venice, and I eat there probably way more than I should. It’s so good, and so L.A. But that’s what I love about this city. You don’t have to go to a fancy place to get food that’s completely delicious.
24 Lincoln Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90291
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.