Owner and founder Larry White, Jr. in front of Monroe’s Hot Chicken in Downtown Phoenix. (Photo: Fara Illich)

Good food brings people together. That’s the motto Larry “Lo-Lo” White cooks by, and that’s the business model he’s been perfecting since 1997.

White has some big shoes to fill, carrying on a legacy of cooking and serving delicious food in Downtown Phoenix from his grandmother, Elizabeth White, who opened Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café in October 1964 on Jefferson and Eighth streets.

Still in operation after nearly 60 years, the restaurant specializes in fried chicken, catfish and other Southern-style, home-cooked favorites, serving everyone from Phoenix politicians and civil rights activists to sports stars and Hollywood celebrities.

“Some of my favorite memories of my grandmother’s restaurant is just seeing all the dignitaries come in, you know — your governors, your mayors, your senators, Senator John McCain used to come in a lot,” he said. “It has always been that destination for community leaders to get together and meet at Mrs. White’s to talk about serious subjects. You met a lot of important people at Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café, and I love that.”

He liked hanging at his grandmother’s restaurant, and worked nearly every job there during high school, but said he never thought he’d end up in the restaurant business. In fact, it was “the last thing I wanted to do,” he said. But all those years working alongside his grandmother, he learned a trade – a specialized craft that only comes with consistency, hard work and a taste for delicious food.

So when it came time to opening his own restaurant in ‘97, which started as a weekend pop-up chicken and waffles spot out of Mrs. White’s, “it all just came so natural,” he said.
Knowing what to taste for, smell for, and look for in quality ingredients is something he’d been doing his whole life. But natural ability doesn’t mean things came easy.

In 2002, he opened his first brick-and-mortar, 1,000-square-foot restaurant in a converted house on Central Avenue just south of downtown. It took two years to get the place up to code, and he did it all without formal business training or outside investment.

Lines soon started forming around the block, attracting the likes of Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Muhammad Ali — a gathering place for people from all walks of life, just like his grandmother’s place.

After a decade of success, he expanded to a nearly 6000-square-foot 1930s building around the corner. He also launched Lo-Lo’s as a national franchise brand in 2014, opening Lo-Lo’s in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2016, and Las Vegas in 2021.

Building on his grandmother’s recipes, Lo-Lo’s claim to fame was his scratch-made fried chicken and sweet, syrupy waffles. But his menu of authentic Southern comfort also includes shrimp and grits, salmon croquettes, collard greens, fried-green tomatoes and much more. Each dish is made from scratch every day, and White prides himself on the fact that there are no microwaves in his restaurants – guaranteeing fresh-made food.

“Taste is 99 percent of how you make a recipe,” he said. “Now in grandma’s recipes, it’s a little different, because grandma was like, ‘baby, you need a pinch full of this and a fist full of that,’ and they just don’t have grandma pinches and fist-fulls. So I actually have a mold of my grandmother’s hand — just joking. But taste is most important.”

Smiles, jokes and lots of laughter remain a main ingredient at all of White’s restaurants, an empire that’s grown into three concepts, including the original Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles, Monroe’s Hot Chicken and his latest – Brunch & Sip.

He has nine stores total, with plans for future growth, but his roots will always remain in his hometown.

“Growing up in Phoenix — it was cool. It was a great place to grow up,” he said. “I’m a true Phoenician, I’ve seen a lot a lot of the city grow and develop and change over the years.”
He used to take the bus downtown, nicknamed “The Tico,” after the city’s transit mascot (a sun with a hat and sunglasses), popularized in the 1970s.

“Downtown Phoenix was my playground. So if I wasn’t playing at the restaurant, I was playing at the Greyhound bus terminal on Washington Street. And where the Diamondbacks baseball field is, there used to be a big mound of dirt, and I used to climb that mound of dirt and play there as well.”

Born and raised here, White says Downtown Phoenix was the place to be. But it wasn’t until 2019 that White opened his first restaurant in the Downtown Core, Monroe’s Hot Chicken.

He saw the Nashville hot chicken craze growing in popularity on social media, and started doing his homework. He visited Howlin’ Ray’s in Los Angeles multiple times, and spent a week in Nashville visiting places like Prince’s Hot Chicken, where the recipe is said to have originated in 1945.

In addition to extensive research and recipe development, the first location was key. Originally planned for a building on Monroe Street, which didn’t end up panning out, White said he decided to retain the name and concept.

Located in the 1924 historic Luhrs Building, Monroe’s Hot Chicken is less than a mile east of Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café on Jefferson Street. Just a stone’s throw from where it all began.
Authentic seasonings, fresh ingredients, and meticulous preparation bring a line of people out the door around lunch time. Each piece of chicken gets hit with two doses of seasonings, first in the spicy batter, and then in a dry coating that goes on after the chicken is fried.

These days, it’s a new generation gracing his doorway like civil rights attorney Benjamin Taylor, and sports stars like DeAndre Ayton and Larry Fitzgerald.

From the celebrity mug shots on the wall, hip hop playlist, to the homemade Moon Pies, everything at Monroe’s is a vibe, adding to the “charisma, style, finesse and flair” of downtown Phoenix, according to White.

“That’s why a lot of people are moving downtown,” he said. “It’s hip. It’s happening. It’s the place to be.”