Breaking News
More () »

It's been in business since 1965. How Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe helped shape Arizona

Elizabeth White has been running the restaurant since LBJ was in office, and she knows what she wants.

PHOENIX — There are a few rules at Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe.

First, Mrs. White is always right. She's been running the restaurant since LBJ was in office, and she knows what she wants.  

Second, the menu doesn't change. That's related to rule number one.

Third, and this may be the most important, live by the Golden Rule.

"We try to be good because that's what The Golden Rule means," said Elizabeth White, sitting at a booth in the small restaurant at 8th and Jefferson streets in downtown Phoenix.

White has been in business since 1964. Her restaurant features southern classics and soul food. Fried pork chops, smothered pork chops, chicken fried steak, fried chicken. Everything exactly the same as she had learned it, exactly the way she's cooked it since 1964.

"I like things to be done right," she said. "It's hard to get that."

Hard to get, maybe, but easy to see how White keeps it when she finds it.

On this day, she entered the restaurant with her walker and immediately noticed something out of place. A hot sauce bottle could be refilled. Condiments could look nicer. Small things have kept this place going for decades.

"How do I keep it going?" she asked. "Through prayer, persevering, and trying to get them to do right!" 

The restaurant is part of the fabric of the African-American community in Phoenix. 

Mrs. White's opened the same year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. But that law hadn't started taking hold. Interracial marriage in Arizona had only been legalized two years before. 

There wouldn't be a single black homeowner in neighboring Tempe until the next year, 1965. Phoenix civil rights advocate Lincoln Ragsdale was still fighting for a law that would make it illegal to deny services to people because of skin color. 

But Mrs. White's was somehow above it all...and in the middle of it. 

Customers, black and white, would come to her tables. Workers who might otherwise never integrate now would. 

"Color doesn't make no difference to me. Color doesn't matter," she said. "I wanted the money, and I don't care what color you are, and that's the same today."

But even as the restaurant was seemingly above racial politics, the walls of Mrs. White's show how deeply the restaurant was involved. 

The photos are like a timeline of the African-American community. Photos of Reverend Al Sharpton having lunch there, awards from civil rights groups. Until recently, the walls themselves were covered with handwritten messages and signatures from athletes, actors, and musicians. 

“Mrs. White’s is definitely an institution," her grandson, Larry White, said. "You know, it brings people together. And it's been heavily involved in African American movement here in Arizona."

Larry White got his start in Mrs. White's kitchen. You may know him by his nickname: Lo-Lo. 

Larry started cooking Mrs. White's famous fried chicken and pairing it with waffles that are just as famous. He went out on his own and founded Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles. It's now a restaurant empire spanning three states. 

"Grandma gave me the opportunity to display my craft," he said. 

White doesn't cook at the restaurant anymore. But she still makes her way to the kitchen where her granddaughter is turning out the same quality food that has kept Mrs. White's in business for so long. 

"I used to be just like lightning going around here," she said. 

But in recent years, Mrs. White has had to slow down. She worked until she was 93 years old. 

She's now 99.  And at 99 years old, she still runs her restaurant the way she wants it to run, according to her own rules and the Golden One. 

Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe
808 E. Jefferson Street, Phoenix 85034

Up to Speed

Catch up on the latest news and stories on the 12News YouTube channel. Subscribe today.

Before You Leave, Check This Out