One of the few good things to come out of the pandemic was a deeper appreciation and compassion for small business owners. It’s no secret that small businesses were ignored and suffered in 2020, especially ones that were women and minority-owned. As a result, tens of thousands of these owners were forced to close their doors, and unfortunately, many had to make it permanent.
Like everyone, Larry White, also known as “Lo-Lo,” said it affected his livelihood. “We made significant changes,” he says. “We maintained and kept all salaried managers employed, but we did have to majorly downgrade to stay afloat.”
White owns Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles, Monroe's Hot Chicken and Brunch & Sip. He currently has about 300 employees across the three restaurant concepts and nine stores total, operating six Lo-Lo’s, two Monroe’s and one Brunch & Sip in Texas, Nevada and Arizona.
The restauranteur was able to preserve by “working smarter,” such as controlling food loss, labor and minimal wastage. He also got creative. “I turned some of my stores into grocery stores,” he says. “I had relationships with Costco and that helped. I bought toilet paper, paper towels, bleach, gloves and masks in bulk, and I sold that to the community. I’m a hustler, and I’ll always find a way. Even where there doesn’t seem like a way, I’ll find it.”
White credits his street knowledge which kicked back into gear for his survival. “We found other ways of staying relevant like offering affordable family meal packages starting at $30. They would feed a family of four. I stayed good to my team; I showed appreciation. I did what’s right.”
Gratitude and appreciation certainly do go a long way, and that was evident with White; 80% of his employees returned, with some working in more than one of his stores.
Generations of Cooks
Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, White was raised with his four sisters. He spent tons of time with his grandparents, especially his grandmother, as he grew up. He proudly states that he was her first and favorite grandchild. “I had a great childhood,” White says. “I was well-loved, supported and outspoken. My father and grandmother encouraged that. They taught me to be the best, and when I do something, do it right; no half steps or shortcuts.”
Another thing that White grew up with was delicious food. “I come from a family of cooks, so my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving,” says the Arizona native. “My whole childhood had been surrounded by great food. It’s very, very, very, very rare that I don’t get great food outside of my family, and we can’t wait to get together to eat.”
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The most popular entree was “fried chicken, first and foremost.” “I can eat [it] every single day. Actually, I have been eating [it] every day, and my family attributes that to our youthfulness.” White says that many of his family members live long lives, close to or past a century. “It’s our fried chicken. The recipes have been passed down from generation to generation.”
The Family Business
In the early 1960s, White’s grandmother’s brother, Floyd Jimmerson, opened a restaurant called Church Cafe, a building that was half restaurant and half church, where Jimmerson was a bishop. “After preaching in the pulpit, he was blessing people’s food in the kitchen,” White says.
Church Cafe was quite popular, so Jimmerson called up White’s grandmother to ask if she could help him with the business. White says his grandmother, currently in Temple, Texas, with her four children, jumped on the opportunity. “She was looking for an out of an abusive relationship, so she packed up her kids and moved to Phoenix to help her brother.”
However, White said that his grandmother’s youngest child was not adjusting well to their new place, causing her to pack up her kids again and move back to Texas, but she stayed in touch with her brother. A few months later, Jimmerson called to tell her the restaurant wasn’t working out and he would close.
“My grandmother said no, she’d buy it, just give her time.” For this, she looked for help within the Black community. On New Year’s Eve 1963, White’s grandmother made it back to Phoenix and sought help from Lincoln Ragsdale, owner of Ragsdale Mortuary and the first Black funeral-home owner in Arizona.
Ragsdale was also one of the original Tuskegee airmen and an influential leader in the Phoenix-area Civil Rights movement. White says in the short amount of time his grandmother had initially been in Phoenix, she had won the hearts and stomachs of many patrons and made many friends, so when she came back and asked for loans to buy the restaurant, they happily gave it to her.
However, after White’s grandmother gave her brother the money, he started packing up pots and pans. When she asked what he was doing, Jimmerson said that she only bought the business, not the contents, so White’s grandmother had to get another loan to buy all the equipment. In February 1964, she renamed Church’s Cafe to Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe, still conducting church, and now 99 years of age, still preaches every Sunday.
Don’t Deny Your Birthright
White’s grandmother’s business was his playground growing up. “I would take drinks to the table one at a time because I was just a kid.” He says he would accompany his grandmother and father to the store to shop for groceries for the restaurant. “I’ve always been surrounded by restaurant food,” he says. “Cooking comes naturally to me. I’ve started cooking once I could walk and talk and started cooking in my grandmother’s kitchen when I was in high school.” But White said he didn’t find working in the kitchen glamorous back then; it was just something that came naturally.
The entrepreneur says that he never thought about going into cooking or the restaurant industry as a profession and instead went through the alphabet of jobs and hustles. “I kept trying and failing, and the only consistent thing was people ranting and raving about how good my food was. This was back in the 90s; no one was going to restaurants. It was about who was cooking and where.”
White says friends would camp out at his house because he always had food or was about to make some. “It was very satisfying and pleasing seeing people admire your craft. It’s rewarding to get praised for greatness.” It caused White to realize how great a cook he was, which made sense because it was in his blood.
Unfortunately, White hit a roadblock before accepting his true calling. His nickname, Lo-Lo, came from “being up to no good” and needing to have an alias out on the streets as a teen. In 1997, he was arrested for a drug case and thrown in jail for 11 weeks.
During that time, he did some self-reflection with the clarity that typically comes when spending extended time locked in a cell. “I was scared straight,” he says. “I realized I wanted something positive in my life. I marinated on opening a restaurant and thought about what and how I would do it. I kept that energy during that time and got out of jail in July. I opened the restaurant in October.”
Find a Concept
White’s grandmother let him use her restaurant to start his business. “She would let me use the restaurant on weekends,” he shares. “I worked for my grandmother Monday through Friday, from 10:30 am to 7:30 pm. Then, I’d go home and shower, eat, and open doors at 9 pm and close at 4 am. I would clean, go home, sleep, wake up and go back to the restaurant to start all over again.” He maintained that schedule until he opened his first Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles in 2002.
“Lo-Los took two years to open to get up to code,” White says. “It was in Phoenix, it was 1,000 sq. ft., and could only fit 20 people. There was no parking anywhere, and the city would pass out parking tickets to all my customers. But they didn’t care because the food was so good.”
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White said he was in that space for a year before asking the city about building an enclosed outdoor patio so he could seat more people, especially for the summers and winters. “The city said you need permits, drawings, architect, etc. Things that cost money and I didn’t have. So, one Friday, I went to Home Depot and picked up some guys. I told them what I wanted, and by Sunday, I was able to sit 40 customers.”
Find the Niche
White’s success with his restaurant concepts was being one of the first in his local community. “My claim to fame is bringing stuff to Arizona that I’ve seen that wasn’t there. No one was doing chicken and waffles in 1997. With Monroe’s Hot Chicken, in 2019, no one was doing that.” He soon caught the attention of celebrities and athletes, like former Phoenix Sun basketball players Amar'e Stoudemire and Shaquille O’Neal.
“Shaq constantly told me I needed a bigger place because he kept hitting his head,” White says. “So, I finally found a space over 3000 sq. ft in downtown Phoenix. I toured it in 2009 and signed on the dotted line, and went through the steps to get ready. Then Shaq ended up getting traded to the Celtics.”
White says he went broke opening that place, running up credit to get groceries because he was financially tapped out. But there are no hard feelings with O’Neal pushing him to open a second location. “It clearly worked out. I ended up buying the strip at the first Lo-Lo’s location and bought a place across the street.”
Flood the Market
Besides Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles, White also opened up a Monroe’s Hot Chicken and Brunch & Sip. Monroe’s Hot Chicken serves Nashville-style hot chicken, a type of fried chicken that is a specialty of Nashville, Tennessee.
The story goes that Thornton Prince, the founder of Prince's Hot Chicken, was a giant player and womanizer and upset one of his partners after staying out all night with his activities. So, she made him a plate of fried chicken and added the spiciest seasoning she had and served it to him. Prince's reaction was not what she expected—he loved it, took it to his brother’s house and eventually made it into a dish.
When White set out to open a hot chicken place, he flew to Nashville to conduct research. “I ate at every chicken place that offered hot chicken,” he says. “I learned the origin, how and why it came to be, how it was made. I tasted it all and was able to put together my own hot chicken.”
His studies proved fruitful because White said many Tennesseans told him that his was the best hot chicken. “When I do research, I do research. I like to learn from other people’s mistakes and ask questions.”
As far as choosing the name “Monroe,” when he was looking for a place to open the hot chicken, the first space he found was on a street named Monroe. By now, everyone in Phoenix knew who White was, so when he stepped into the realtor’s office and announced he would like to buy the space, the whole team was excited. “They thought it was going to be another Lo-Lo’s.” White worked with a realtor who said he was a shoo-in for the space and there wouldn’t be any problems.
Keep in mind this is sixteen years after he opened the first Lo-Lo’s and had opened more locations, all of which were successful. White did not foresee any issues securing the location and started working on Monroe's name, design and logo.
“I put thousands into it,” he says. “But the space was owned by suits and ties located in New York and Chicago and they decided to deny me the space.” Because he was so far down the line, White decided to keep the name. “The craziest thing about this story is that I started having conversations on buying it in 2018 and the space is still for sale.” He didn’t say the reason for the denial, but he didn’t need to; the suits and ties didn’t want to sell to a Black-owned business, despite its documented success.
When coming up with the Brunch & Sip concept, White wanted more of an eclectic menu and a bit finer dining. “Lo-Lo’s was a success by then, and a neighbor came to me and said a restaurant closed down and I should make it another Lo-Lo’s. But that didn’t make sense since there was another nearby, so I thought maybe a BBQ.”
However, White wasn’t too keen on babysitting a new place because of the prep work in barbequing. “I wanted to get in, make money and get out. I thought about when people travel and how they’re always looking for that brunch spot. So, I decided a breakfast and brunch idea would be perfect. At brunch, you sip, so I decided to do brunch and sip.”
White credits his wife, who was changing their diet, alongside her friends who were dieting for health and life-changing reasons, for inspiration with the idea. “I wanted to have a restaurant that included everyone so we wouldn’t lose business,” White says. “I talked to my chef, who said he can make comfort food into keto, vegan, etc.”
He tells his chef a food idea, tells him what the goal will be, and then lets him do his thing. “We serve art; our food presentation is amazing because guests eat with their eyes. My staff takes pride in what they do and wants the food to arrive beautifully so that people take pictures.”
He does the same thing with his bartending crew. “I’m blessed to have great mixologists on my team and our cocktails are amazing. I’ve never bartended, but I know what I like and describe it to them. If I see something I like, I’ll take a picture and share it with my mixologists. Nine times out of ten, they get it right. Brunch & Sip is like a resort; it brings you food like you ordered food service.”
White has a nose for business as he’s been successful and maintains his success in every store he opens. He also has his eyes set on a restaurant concept lacking in the Black community; a high-end steakhouse.
“We’re not just good in February; we’re good 365 days a year,” White says. “Don’t wait until February to patronize me. See me anytime. I enjoy what I do. People leaving happy is the biggest reward. I touch every table, get great feedback, and any negative feedback makes me strive to be better.”
What to Try
Lo-Lo’s: Chicken and Waffles, of course! It’s a three-piece chicken prepared southern style with two golden waffles.
At Monroe’s Hot Chicken, the classic Nashville hot chicken sandwich. It’s organic fried chicken breast spice to your choosing with homemade coleslaw, Kick-It-Up sauce and homemade pickles on a toasted brioche buttered bun. Try the Homemade Tennessee Moon Pie with marshmallows made from scratch for dessert.
Brunch and Sip: the famous fried chicken biscuit. It’s a homemade biscuit between buttermilk biscuits with an omelet on top, smothered in turkey sausage white gravy, topped with turkey back and parsley.
Noticing a theme? White’s fried chicken deserves high praise, all thanks to his family’s recipe that has been shared through generations.
You can find Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube. If you’re in the Phoenix, Gilbert or Scottsdale area in Arizona, stop in and check them out. Lo-Lo’s is also in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Grapevine, Texas.
Brunch & Sip is located in Phoenix and on Facebook and Instagram.