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Larry Wendt of the Buffalo Chip

A Passion for Police Work and Old West Cooking:
Larry Wendt of the Buffalo Chip

Meeting Cave Creek By Kimberly Gunning

Cave Creek’s Buffalo Chip has become a Cave Creek icon, an Old West live-music and country-dancing venue, and a spot to grab killer barbecue ribs or step up and test your bull-riding skills. It’s also a hang out for more than a thousand loyal Green Bay Packers fans and a spiritual meeting place on Sunday mornings.

Larry shoots a card at the ChipThe Chip’s owner for the past 17 years is a retired Maricopa Country deputy police chief, Larry Wendt.  Wendt served a full career in law enforcement, holding a variety of positions including patrol officer, detective and member of a SWAT team. “It just happened that I also had a real love for the Old West and Old West cooking,” Wendt says, explaining his reasons for his career change.  

Larry is not a man for the retirement life. “I really enjoy running a successful operation, whether it’s a sting operation in law enforcement or a food and beverage operation.”

Many of Wendt’s favorite assignments on the SWAT team involved hostage situations and extractions.  He jumped out of aircraft and handled special weapons. “You did different high-stress, but high-satisfaction activities every day,” Wendt recalls.  During that time two things occurred: I started going up in rank … and in 1977 I started a catering company for police functions.”

He set up a trailer and began cooking Dutch oven and chuck wagon meals for the people out on search and rescue missions.  With the help of “a couple of other guys,” Wendt fed hungry crews of various sizes. “If we had 25 people on the search, we’d feed them; if we had 100 people on the search, we’d feed them.  Before long, we got to where we could cook for a lot of people in a real short period of time.”

Wendt’s catering business expanded to larger and larger functions outside of the police force, and The Buffalo Chip became one of Wendt’s regular catering sites.  Everything came together when the Chip’s owner, Marla McGee, the daughter of Green Bay Packers’ Max McGee, was looking to sell.   Only nine days into retirement, Wendt drew out his retirement savings from 24 years in police work and purchased the Buffalo Chip.

Not a drinker himself and having seen the negative affects of alcohol on people’s lives throughout his law career, Wendt pondered turning the Chip into a steakhouse.
“But the town had other ideas,” he says. “The Chip was well-liked by the community and I could tell right away that I wasn’t going to be able to change it … I needed to add on to the Buffalo Chip, put a kitchen in it and serve food.  That’s what I did.

I’ve got a staff that has been with me for the whole time I’ve owned the Buffalo Chip.” Wendt credits them with making the difference in the success of the restaurant.

Referring to himself as “a Packers fan by default,” Wendt enjoys catering to  “groups outside of the boots and the hats,” and as a Christian, his motto about Sunday morning church at the Chip is: “We spend all week making sinners out of them. We can spend at least one day trying to show them the other side of life.”

On any day of the week, the Chip’s following ranges from motorcycle crews to karaoke enthusiasts, country dancers, live-music lovers, cowboys, partiers, Green Bay Packers fans and church-goers. “Our diverse crowd is one of the things that I love about the Chip,” Wendt says.

Though vastly different from working in law enforcement, seventeen years later, Wendt still has no regrets about having purchased the Chip.  And judging by the nightly crowds, he’s certainly running another successful operation.  Visit the Buffalo Chip section on Cave Creek Live for the latest events and live shows at the Chip!

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