“I would like to see more Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles all over the world. I’m not limiting myself to the US.”
Larry White, also known as Lo-Lo, is the owner of Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles, Monroe’s Hot Chicken, and Brunch & Sip.
His grandmother Elizabeth opened Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe in downtown Phoenix in the 1960s, beginning his family’s legacy of food in Phoenix.
White has since expanded Lo-Lo’s outside of the state and is looking to go further. We spoke with him about his plans for the businesses, how he started his brands, and how Phoenix has changed since he was a kid.
Watch the full conversation here, or check out some highlights below.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Copper Courier: What was it like growing up in Phoenix with a family so involved in the community?
Larry White: It was definitely an honor and a privilege. I just come from a family of great cooks, and I think food brings people together. So, no matter where I went, everybody was like, “That’s Ms. White’s grandbaby.” They love me because grandma was feeding them comfort food that was good to their soul. So, I was just immediately embraced by the city as soon as I came out the womb. Not to mention, I’m my grandmother’s first grandchild.
CC: Did you always know that you wanted to go in food? Was there ever the thought of another career path?
LW: Man, being in the restaurant business was the last thing I wanted to do. It’s crazy. Growing up watching my grandmother and my father bust their tail, my father coming home dead tired, too tired to play. The way your clothes smell from standing over a stove all day. And I was like, “Nah, I don’t want that for myself.”
I was playing football in high school, and at one time I thought I was going to be a professional football player, but come to find out I was too short for that. And then I wanted to be a sports agent, believe it or not.
Business has always been in my mind, so I was always business-driven. When I was a kid, I used to cook up all the food in the house, the hot dogs and get all the Twinkies and sodas that pops would bring so you can have some snacks when you come home from school. And I would load everything up in the back of my little red wagon and walk around the neighborhood ringing a bell and I would sell. If you got a hot dog, it was one price. If you got a soda, it was one price. But if you got a combo, you can maybe save a quarter or 50 cents. But entrepreneurship has always been in me.
CC: So, I know you started developing the recipes for Lo-Lo’s in the late ’90s and opened the first location in the early 2000s. How has it been seeing Phoenix just change since then?
LW: It’s great. It’s like Phoenix is starting to catch up with a lot of other major cities. But just seeing the growth, them finally catching up to get that New York flavor, that Los Angeles flavor, that Nashville or Memphis flavor, that Houston flavor, I think it’s definitely a blessing.
With my restaurants—well, I like to consider myself to be well-traveled, so what I do, I travel and I experience different experiences and I bring it back to Phoenix. And now the surrounding stuff is starting to catch up with the businesses that we’re bringing to Phoenix, which are Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles, your Monroe’s Hot Chicken, and your Brunch & Sip.
With all the downtown growth, a lot of people want to move to Phoenix. A lot of athletes want to come play for the Cardinals. They want to come play for the Suns. Phoenix is evolving, man. It’s a major city and there’s a lot of people skipping LA and stopping right here in Phoenix.
CC: You have a location in Vegas and also in Texas. What was it like making that first step outside of Arizona?
LW: I kind of got pushed outside the state of Arizona. I never really wanted to leave Arizona, but I’m glad I did. A good friend of mine, he built all of my restaurants and he built our Lo-Lo’s Phoenix, and then shortly after that we built Lo-Lo’s Scottsdale. And before we even started construction, he reached out to me about expanding into Gilbert. So, I told him I was tapped out. I really didn’t have the finance to tap into Gilbert at that time. And he was like, “Man, I believe in your brand so much, and I really want you to be a part of it. I’ll build it for you and just pay me back.” And I’m not the type of person like owing people.
So, he went and built this restaurant, and then after he built the restaurant, I wrote him a check paid in full for the money out of pocket. And he was like, “Where did you get this from?” And I was like, “Man, we just made it from Phoenix and Scottsdale. I don’t like owing nobody.” No bank loans, none of that. He was like, “This is impressive. You got to get out of state. Everybody needs to experience this. You have great food, great service, and everything,” which I applauded him and thanked him for pushing me. So, he helped me to start the franchise group.
So, I started the franchise group, and the very first franchise was in Omaha, Nebraska. Unfortunately, it wasn’t successful. They were open for, let’s say, maybe about three years, but we had to close them down, legally. And then we opened up in Vegas. The Vegas thing was kind of rocky and it was messing with my name. I was like, “This is close enough. I think I can manage Vegas and Arizona.” And we’ve been going back and forth to Vegas.
And Vegas is actually one of our No. 1 stores. It’s super, super successful. To this day we only have one franchisee and that franchisee is in Dallas, and they’re doing amazing things. We supplied them with a blueprint, we supplied them with support, and with that, if they follow the blueprint and follow support, what else can I say? The rest is history. That’s why they’re doing so well.
CC: What’s been your favorite celebrity guest experience so far?
LW: It was an honor and a privilege to serve Muhammad Ali. So, just having a champ come off in there and just sitting with him and talking with him, I mean, it was definitely an honor. Yeah, definitely an honor. So, that’s my most favorite person that walked through the door.
My boy Mike Tyson come through, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neil, LeBron James. I mean, we just had… We got Waka Flocka, The Game. We can go on and on for days, I’ll be here all day telling you who come to Lo-Lo’s.
Just two weeks ago, we had TI and Tiny up at the Vegas location. Money Mayweather, he frequents the Vegas location quite often. He comes to our Arizona stores whenever he’s in town. Very nice dude. So, we’ve been blessed to meet a lot of people. Once again, food brings people together, so wherever there’s good food, there’s good people.
CC: I also wanted to talk a little bit about Monroe’s Hot Chicken, which just turned three years old recently.
LW: Now, this wasn’t planned. We would go to Los Angeles, and you know social media is so big, so we’ll be in Los Angeles and on social media you see all these big, huge red chicken sandwiches with all this coleslaw and a nice buttery bun.
So, you see this on social media, so you make a note, next time I’m in LA, I’m going to check out this place that’s making these amazing sandwiches. And we went there and we went and saw a place called Howlin’ Ray’s.
And we went to Howlin’ Ray’s the first time and we waited in line to get a chicken sandwich. It took about an hour. And it was like, “Ooh, that’s pretty good.” So, then, we went back to Los Angeles and we waited in line for two hours, and I was like, “Whoa. Okay.” So, the third time we went back, the wait was literally like three hours. Like you’re going to be in line for three hours from this point right here. And I looked to my wife and I was like, “I’m about to bring this back to Arizona and I’m about to duplicate it.”
So, I came back, I got in the kitchen, I started working with recipes just based on taste. I never asked anybody for any recipes or how to do this or how to do that. So, we just got the plan with the recipes and stuff like that. And then I went one step further. I went to Nashville where hot chicken originated, and I went to Nashville and we stayed there for a week and we ate at every single hot chicken place Nashville had to offer.
We did our research, we understand where hot chicken came from, we know how hot chicken came about. And we talked to some of the pioneers in the hot chicken game from Prince’s Hot Chicken, they’ve been doing hot chicken since the 1920s.
And we built the perfect hot chicken sandwich. So, with that being said, there has been people visiting Arizona from Nashville, from Memphis, from the South that grew up on hot chicken, and they literally come in our place and they say, “This is some of the best hot chicken we ever had.”
It just goes to show that anything worth having, it doesn’t come easy. You got to work for it. And that’s exactly what we do. We work for everything we do.
CC: Do you picture new restaurant concepts coming in the future or expansion of the current ones?
LW: I’m working on a brand new concept right now. Nobody in Phoenix is doing this, what I’m working on right now. Just like I was the first one to bring chicken and waffles to Arizona, I was the first one to bring Nashville hot chicken to Arizona.
I would like to see more Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles all over the world. I’m not limiting myself to the US. I think Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles can hit it off in England, in Paris, in France, in Spain.
And my Monroe’s Hot Chicken, watch out. Keep your eyes on Monroe’s. Monroe’s is built to go. It’s built to go. It’s quick, fast service. I can see a Monroe’s being maybe the next Raising Cane’s, the next Chick-fil-A. Monroe’s is that deep. It’s really serious.
CC: There’s a hot sauce on the Monroe’s menu called What the Cluck that you have to sign a waiver to eat. How many people order that?
LW: You’d be surprised how many people order it, but I’m not eating that never, ever again.
So, with that being said, we got the Southern, if you just want a great, awesome chicken sandwich with no spice, seasoned to perfection. The marination process that we do over at Monroe’s is sick. The chicken sits in this solution for 24 hours and then it sits in this solution for another 24 hours before it makes it to a line.
Before it comes to the line, it’s already in the building for like 72 hours just getting infused with all of this spices and flavor. So, if you ever think about it and you come to Monroe’s, try to get one of those sandwiches with no spice. It is the best chicken sandwich you’ll ever have in your life. Trust me.
Now, let’s get back to the spice. We got a mild, medium, hot, too damn hot, and what you started off with, What the Cluck. When we’re mixing the peppers, Chef Willie and those guys, when they’re putting those spices together, they’re literally wearing goggles. They’re putting in ghost pepper, scorpion pepper, Carolina Reaper. Haberno. I mean, there’s so much stuff that goes on into that, and it’s crazy. And if you forget you got some of that on your hand and rub your eye, oh my God. Oh my God.
CC: What was it like getting through COVID for you? Was there any point in which you thought that Lo-Lo’s might have to close down for good?
LW: We hit some rough patches, but considering closing down for good? Nah. Even if I were to have to get back in the kitchen and start cooking myself, Lo-Lo’s ain’t going nowhere. Lo-Lo’s is definitely an institution that’s here to stay. But COVID has been very challenging, especially trying to find new, dependable help.
CC: I had seen in a previous interview that you did that you mentioned working on a memoir. Is that something that’s still in the works?
LW: It is done. What we need to do is a final edit. And I’ve been dragging my feet on it. And I’m glad you asked that question because I just hope that the people out there, and I hope this video lives on forever, but if I’m telling a memoir, I’m telling everything.
Some people are not going to understand my beginning, but my beginning kind of made me the person that I am today and I’m very proud of it. But I did a lot of things, in the beginning, to get to where I am today. I would just hate for somebody to read the book and judge me on 25 years ago. I’m 50 years old now. I’m a changed man. That’s why I’m kind of dragging my feet because sometimes I wonder, I’m like, “Will people read this and not want to eat chicken and waffles anymore?”
But just like a lot of other big-time celebrities say, they’re like, “Hey man, you just got to pull out that bandaid, pull off the scab, and just deal with it.” So, it’s coming. I’ve had numerous people read the book to get some feedback, some constructive criticism, and everybody that read the book said, “This is a movie.”