Food for the desert soul
Catfish. Fried Chicken. Collard greens. Red velvet cake. I'll suffer a food coma as much as the next guy after eating a meal of food like this.
What exactly is soul food? I was pondering this and found a savory gem of soul food in Arizona. Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles, a soul food/Southern joint that is famous for the dish in its name, provides a hybrid of dinner and breakfast.
Students at ASU adore the mason jars of Kool-Aid on tap and sweet tea offered with mouthwatering melt-in-your-mouth waffles and golden chicken.
Electrical engineering freshman Kenna Lum commented that the two entities are not the same. "Soul is close to African culture, not really African-American, and Lo-Lo's is not soul food."
Kieran Porter, a computer science freshman, also commented on the subject, saying Lo-Lo's is a combination of both Southern and soul food.
"I'd say it's soul food, but for the most part it's Southern food because they share a large part of history together," Porter says.
While opinions differ between students who eat at Lo-Lo's, it's certainly apparent the answer to my question was on both sides of the spectrum. I had to find out more and dig deeper into the cuisine itself.
I got a chance to ask one of the managers, AnTjuan Jones, about the history of Lo-Lo's and its famous chicken and waffles.
With 16 combinations, Lolo’s Chicken & Waffles brings its namesake to life. | Photo by Sophia Thomas
State Press Magazine: What is Lo-Lo’s policy when it comes to food service? What was a personal experience that inspired the creation of Lo-Lo’s here in Phoenix?
AnTjuan Jones: We want to cook fresh, hot food and get it out at a reasonable time. It’s the best or nothing. Larry White [the owner] grew up in a restaurant. He grew up in the industry. He had the full experience. He had a dream and did the chicken and waffles from his grandmother’s restaurant.
SPM: Some say that the food here isn’t soul food, but Southern. What’s the difference between the two?
AJ: Soul food is rooted in African-American history and culture. Southern is really an area. Soul food is something from the heart.
SPM: What was the inspiration in creating the menu since it has an interesting array of names and creativity?
AJ: The people close to [Larry] inspired the menu. Lo-Lo is Larry's nickname, Tre-Tre is the son, and the Sheedah's Special is named after his wife.
SPM: Where did the idea of mixing opposing foods like chicken and waffles come from?
AJ: It’s hard to pinpoint. It started in Harlem, New York. The combination of sweet and salty just works well, common as peanut butter and jelly.
SPM: What would you consider contributed to the exploding success of Lo-Lo’s?
AJ: Larry exemplifies determination. He wants to make it happen. He started off small but kept applying himself. The market was open for him. The great food and great service adds on the success.
SPM: Why do you think famous people like NBA players visit?
AJ: Some prefer us, but some just want what we provide which is great food and great services. We’re lucky that everyone here has a great experience. You wanna bring people to come with you to try it. We’re here to foster this family mentality.
SPM: Why would Larry decide a desert state like Arizona, a rodeo of Tex-Mex, was a good place to open a typically southern-genre place like Lo-Lo's?
AJ: We represent a lot of different things. We are in the soul food industry as well as breakfast food. You might come here for the Southern or the soul food but you might come out loving something else. We are trying to provide a happy experience for all customers.
I think here in Arizona there is a great market for soul food and breakfast. [Larry] is from Arizona so he wants to do something for his state.
Jones concludes by saying, "Take pride in the fact that everyone enjoys Southern food and the family environment."