Located on West Pico Boulevard stood an all white building with a restaurant sign printed in white and green that read “Maurice’s Snack ‘n’ Chat”. The restaurant that was opened in 1978 was owned by 98 year-old Maurice Prince.
“Everyone loved my fried chicken,” she said while flipping through her photo album in her downtown Los Angeles apartment. “That’s really how the restaurant became so popular. People would ask ‘where can I get the best fried chicken in town?’ The answer to that question for many was Snack ‘n’ Chat.”
Born in and raised in Arkansas, Prince was one of 11 children and picked up her cooking from her sharecropping parents. She always knew the value of hard work because she started work at a young age as a babysitter for former slave owners. “I would make a dollar a week to babysit their child,” she said “They ended up firing me with no reason given.”
Right after she lost her job as a baby-sitter she was unfortunately raped and became pregnant. “I was in the eighth grade, so I had to drop out of school. I couldn’t go to school and have a child. So, I never went back,” she said. Prince soon took on the job of a dishwasher at a hospital. The position introduced her to the cook of the hospital’s cafeteria. She found herself assisting the cook preparing meals for the staff and hospital patients.
In 1940, Maurice fled the reach of Ku Klux Klansmen in Arkansas and ended up in South L.A. during a heavy jazz era. She landed catering jobs at clubs, juke joints, private parties and landed a solid gig with John Gardner and Loretta Young. Her secret recipe of fried chicken became the author of her popularity and soon catapulted her in the realms of becoming a restaurateur.
“It took me almost 20 years to get my restaurant. But, I worked hard and I got it. I learned in this life that if you want anything you have to work hard enough to get it,” she said. A lot of her business and great industry contacts came from helping others and receiving referrals from past customers.
She likes to call her cooking American home cooking, not soul food. “I didn’t make greasy food that made you feel heavy. I had my own style of cooking,” she said. The menu included meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, black-eyed peas, pan-fried fish, and of course her infamous southern fried chicken.
The restaurant gained quite the celebrity following due to Maurice’s signature fried chicken. Celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Barry White, Prince’s personal friend Lena Horne, Lionel Richie, former mayor Tom Bradley, members of the Lakers basketball team and several others got to enjoy food from the restaurant.
“I had all the celebrities take pictures with me or give me autographed pictures. I made sure they were posted on the restaurant walls,” said Prince.
The majority of her customers were white folks, she said, but after the riots few of them came out to eat at her restaurant. The business stood strong until 2006 when someone else bought out the building.
“Looking back at all the work I did with my restaurant makes me want to reopen another one soon,” she said. On September 9, Prince will turn 99 years old and she hopes to start a restaurant again in hopes of being a guest on ABC’s talk show “The View”.
“I really want my story to be told and I know making it to ‘The View’ will fulfill the some of the parts of my journey,” she said. “Everyone should learn from my story that whatever you do learn how to help someone else. It will help strengthen your journey.”