Thursday, May 16, 2013

Leroy Haynes: Memories of My Father

Several weeks ago I learned that Dorothy Haynes-Griffin, daughter of the legendary Paris expat and restaurant owner Leroy Haynes, faithfully follows the Entrée to Black Paris (ETBP) blog and Facebook page. Dorothy wrote to me to ask whether Leroy was included in any of the ETBP walks that I've created and I was pleased to answer "Yes - he's part of our 'In the Shadow of Montmartre' walk." We struck up a virtual conversation and she subsequently granted me this exclusive interview about Leroy and her memories of him. Enjoy!

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin
Image courtesy of Dorothy Haynes-Griffin

ETBP: Your father, Leroy Haynes, was a Paris legend. So was his restaurant on rue Clauzel. What are your memories of the restaurant?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: Before my sister and I were born, my father and mother were married about 8 years. I have early memories of the restaurant. We would play within the doorways of the famous place. Darting about as kids do. I loved the smell of the spices that came from the kitchen; the cave-like restaurant with its red checkered table clothes had a homey feeling. I remembered sometimes Leroy would occasionally spend his down time reading what I believe was the Chicago Tribune and reacting to the articles he would be reading. It made no sense to me what he was saying, at that time I spoke only French. My mother worked in the restaurant as well as her brother, Uncle Jacques.

ETBP: Your mom moved you and your sister Sophie to New York City when you were four years old. Tell me what you remember about your life in Paris prior to moving there.

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: Prior to living in New York, life in Paris was busy and comfortable. My mother took the responsibility for caring for my sister and me. At the time, we lived in a small flat a few doors down from the restaurant. We were enrolled in a French Pre-K school that was serious, strict and organized. I enjoyed the structure of the little school and found the experience very positive. I remember the teachers gave us a strong sense of being French with little talks about how important it was.

ETBP: Your mother made sure that you returned to Paris during the summer. Tell us about this experience.

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: It would be about four years before we would travel back to France after leaving Paris in 1972. My sister and I stayed with our father at his house. He had a building next door to the restaurant — a huge two-level space where my brother, Richard, shared an apartment with his girlfriend Candy. It was a great place to be as a kid. It had old stairs leading up to the second floor and many rooms to venture into. I remember really enjoying the back yard and playing with my sister.

Sophie, Dorothy, and Leroy Haynes
Image courtesy of Dorothy Haynes-Griffin

ETBP: You mention a brother, Richard. Tell us more about your family.

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: My sister Sophie and I have the same mother, Elizabeth Barthelemy. She was Leroy’s second wife. My brother Richard is the son of Gabrielle, who was my father’s first wife and the one well known for opening the first restaurant with him on rue Manuel. When visiting, I would spend a lot of time with my brother and always wished that we could live closer to each other. Maria Haynes was Leroy's last wife. She was from Portugal, and as a young lady, she caught the eye of Leroy while married to my mother. They never had children. Maria had a daughter from a previous relationship. They stayed married, working together in the restaurant until his death in 1986.

Young Richard Haynes
Image courtesy of Dorothy Haynes-Griffin

Elizabeth Barthelemy and Maria Haynes at the restaurant on rue Clauzel
Image courtesy of Dorothy Haynes-Griffin

ETBP: Would you describe your dad as a family man?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: A family man by today's standards is pretty different from that of the Leroy's generation (he was born in 1914). I don’t think it was clear to him what to do exactly. It seemed like there were some cultural misunderstandings between my mom and him. He took care of the work aspect and earned money and was able to build a career. He experienced life the way he wanted to, unlike his early life in America.

ETBP: When did you realize how popular and important your father was on the Paris scene?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: I always knew Leroy was special, mostly because he was my father. His character and persona was big, robust and sometimes unpredictable, and he was a great story teller. I think it was his nature to try to make people feel good through connecting and feeding them!

As a kid, I never really knew the full impact he made in Paris, not only with the French but within the African-American community that visited France and returned home with many stories. He had lots of friends, and when we went to the market in the morning to shop for the evening dinner service, local merchants would yell hello in French, waving and smiling. They seemed happy to meet my sister and me and of course that made us feel like little celebrities.

Portrait of Leroy Hayes at Haynes' Restaurant, rue Clauzel
© Discover Paris!

There were several times in New York were my sister and I were awakened in the late night to hear "Your father's on TV - wake up," and my sister and I would come running into the living room to see our father shooting at some guys on television. It was funny.

ETBP: Is the fact that you are Leroy Haynes’ daughter important to people in the U.S. today?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: I think for some it is interesting that I am Leroy’s daughter. I have met a lot of older black Americans that remember Leroy well, and they remember the experience they had at the restaurant, the food etc. I am always greeted with a funny story that includes memories of Leroy’s generosity. Younger people, unless they've had the opportunity to travel or research the lives of expatriates, don’t know who Leroy was. That's why what you do (ETBP walking tours) is very important.

I love that Leroy touched so many people, as I can still get a sense of that through the stories that are told to me. It turns out that one of my closest friends, Delorys Welch-Tyson, knew Leroy. He helped her out with changing her American currency to French Francs. It was an ironic moment when she discovered I was his daughter. This kind of thing has happened a lot over the years. Another friend and actress, Juliette Farley, had a father in the military who ate at the restaurant and knew of Leroy during the war. Mr. Farley also married a French woman and they now live in Texas. In a lot of ways, I have built on friendships that were originally started by Leroy.

ETBP: Did Leroy's "fame" impact your life as a child?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: Leroy’s success was a story that I connected to the more I researched his early life in America. Because of a huge generation gap, family members in America were never really mentioned. I spent some years piecing together the puzzle of his early life that gave me a bigger picture of him. A lot of his family members were much older and had passed by the time I became really interested in our genealogy. One of his uncles was James “Bigstick” McCurine who played for the Hartford Giants, Chicago Lincoln Giants, Chicago Brown Bombers, Chicago American Giants and retired suddenly after an arm injury. There was his mother, Lena McCurine-Evans, my grandmother who lived in Chicago and was a vowed Christian. She spent her older years devoted to her church in Chicago called the Greater Union Baptist Church. I never did meet ol’ Lena!

ETBP: When did Leroy pass away?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: April 1986. I was on the M104 bus coming home from junior high school. I sat next to a woman who was reading a magazine named "Chocolate Singles," a known black single's magazine at the time. As the woman turned the page I saw a full article on my father and Chez Haynes Restaurant. I saw the picture of Leroy in the middle of the article. He looked so old and unhealthy and I had a sudden panic attack when I saw it. A few weeks later, my brother called to tell us Leroy had died. There were many calls from Paris, from my brother. Sadly we were unable to go to Paris that year.

His resting place was Cimetière Père Lachaise until 2005. Then he was moved to the Jardin Cinéraire de Thiais by his wife Maria.

ETBP: What is your fondest memory of your father?

Dorothy Haynes-Griffin: It was the early afternoon and Leroy and I sat at a table in the restaurant, the one by the door and the very big windows covered in white lace. I was about 7 years old, and somehow we landed on a conversation about food. He asked me what I liked to eat (he was trying to figure out what to cook for me); I replied I was a vegetarian. He disappeared to the restaurant’s kitchen and returned several minutes later with a fried zucchini…delicious!


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RoseL said...

Hi, Dorothy! I am happy to know that you have posted this information on my uncle, Leroy Haynes. My husband and I visited the restaurant in 1968 when we lived in Germany. When we walked in, his first words to me were, "You look exactly like your mother." I was thrilled that he even remembered me. I hope we can make contact because I have pictures of my grandmother and grandfather which I would love to share with you. Looking forward to hearing from you. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Hi Dorothy, thanks for posting this. I'm sorry that I've done a very poor job of staying in touch with you and Sophie. This blog is great, but probably not the best place for me to go any further.
Best wishes,
Ron Miller

Wayne King said...

I was a waiter in the restaurant in 1973. I will never forget those days. Meeting James Baldwin, Memphis Slim, Jane Birken and many others was amazing for a kid from upstate NY. Thanks for bringing back the wonderful memories.