Catfish Cabin co-founder Charles Ezell dies from COVID-19

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Charles Ezell, who took a Choctaw County restaurant and turned it into a chain of 35 restaurants across the south, died of complications from COVID-19 on Tuesday.

The 77-year-old had been ill for two weeks but appeared to be getting better before his condition deteriorated rapidly last weekend, his nephew Agnew Hall said on Friday.

“He went to the emergency room, they gave him oxygen and sent him home, and he seemed to be doing fine,” Hall said. “Then, Monday morning, things changed and he couldn’t. It was quite a shock.

A funeral service will be held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Hopewell Baptist Church in Lavaca.

Charles Agnew Ezell III was born on September 17, 1943 in Lavaca, Choctaw County. Nicknamed “Doodle”, he grew up around the family business, Ezell’s Fish Camp. The original cabin was used as a trading post during the Civil War before Charles Agnew Ezell bought it and took a ferry across the Tombigbee River in the days before a bridge was built.

His son, CA Ezell, Charles’s father, lived in the cabin and worked as a commercial fisherman on the river. Soon his family outgrown the cabin, but CA continued to operate it as a hunting and fishing club. The place was known for backyard fish fries, where catfish and silent puppies sold for 50 cents per plate. In the 1930s, it became a restaurant.

After graduating from Choctaw County High School, Charles Ezell attended the University of Alabama. After graduation, he served in the US Navy and attempted a career in banking before returning home to try to expand the family business.

Charles and his brother Joe opened the first catfish shack in Chunky, Mississippi, then others followed in Tuscaloosa; Jackson, Miss.; Monroe, La.; Dallas; Memphis and elsewhere. Their sister Mary Ann continued to run Ezell’s first fish camp.

Hall said Ezell took great pride in restaurants and liked to “see the good in people.”

“He was very generous and always kind,” Hall said. “It was about the people, the customers, with him. He was quite extraordinary.

Ezell returned to Lavaca, Hall said, in order to die a few feet from his birthplace, “but he didn’t intend for it to happen so quickly. It’s a tragedy.

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