Larry Wendt, long-time Cave Creek resident and owner of the Buffalo Chip Saloon and Steakhouse, died at 65 years old from a heart attack on Aug. 22.
Wendt is survived by his daughters Tifani and Riata, his son Travis and five grandchildren.
“Everybody knew Larry, and everybody wanted to talk to him. Everybody wanted to be his friend,” Tifani said.
“At the end of the day, Larry did things his way and he did them very successfully. If you didn’t like him or you didn’t agree with him, it didn’t really matter because Larry never worried about what anybody else is doing. My dad did what he did because he knew he was good at it and he was successful at it. And I think that the proof is in the pudding for that when you take a look at the Buffalo Chip and see how successful he’s made it.”
Larry started at the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in 1975, and retired as the deputy chief after 23 years. Tifani said her dad also had a barbecue catering business and was a great cook.
So, in 1999, instead of retiring, he took over the Buffalo Chip when it was just a bar. Tifani said her dad never intended on running a bar, but he enjoyed cooking for people, so it was only natural to turn Buffalo Chip into a restaurant. He added a kitchen and started serving barbecue.
From there, the Buffalo Chip grew to include a dance hall and a bull riding arena. Larry was a former bull rider, and loved the Western cowboy lifestyle, according to Tifani. He took that love and put it into his business. He was clearly successful, as the Buffalo Chip has received awards for Best of Phoenix, Best Western Saloon and Best of the Valley.
Danny Piacquadio, owner of the next-door restaurant Harold’s Corral, expressed his condolences for the family and his admiration for Larry.
“We may have had some different opinions, but we shared a lot in common,” Piacquadio said in a public Facebook post. “We both shared a love for Cave Creek and promoting our businesses and our town. Whether if it was the taste of Cave Creek, Wild West days or even a Super Bowl game between the Steelers and the Packers. Larry always had a magnanimous and entertaining personality. He had a voice to be heard, whether on TV or in front of town council arguing against a noise ordinance. You will be missed my friend, Rest in Peace.”
He was much more than just a successful businessman, though, and used the Buffalo Chip as an outlet to give back to the community. It was under the radar, away from the spotlight and important to Larry.
“You never saw the Buffalo Chip posting about what they’ve done for charity,” Tifani said. “You know, his character wasn’t really like he was giving or being generous for attention or because he wanted people to see.
“He did it quietly, and I think that that’s like the best kind of generosity that you could possibly ask for. He frequently fed people when the fires were going, not this summer, but last summer. We fed 100 or 200 firefighters every single day for a week. But again, no one would have ever known. I can’t tell you how many fundraisers he did at the Chip. We had fundraisers for animal places. He had fundraisers for people who were struggling in their own lives, whether it was with medical things, or not medical things. He had fundraisers for kids, I mean, I could go on forever.”
Church was also important to Larry, and, in the spirit of giving back, he voluntarily opened his doors to his colleague, Steve Gilbertson, a pastor who was starting a church and in need of a building.
“I called him and asked if we could have an Easter sunrise service (at Buffalo Chip) as a way of kind of kicking off our service in 2012,” Gilbertson said.
“He said, ‘Sure. In fact, you guys can meet here all the time if you want.’ That wasn’t our plan at all, but, then we thought, well, ‘Why not? It’s a Cave Creek staple and it fits the Cave Creek style.’ So, we were happy to be able to do that. So, not only did we have the one service as a quick plan on Easter Sunday, but we’ve met every Sunday since.”
Gilbertson said despite his efforts, Larry would never accept any form of payment for the space. He didn’t see it as a business tactic, it was just a way of giving back. Even when the Buffalo Chip burned down on Thanksgiving Day in 2015, Gilbertson said he received a call from Larry that same day, amid dealing with the destruction, to let him know the section where the church met was not burned, and they could still meet there on Sunday.
“He always said, ‘I make sinners out of people all week, the least I can do is let you try to make saints out of them on Sunday.’ He would say it jokingly, but I think he really liked being able to help,” Gilbertson said.
“One time he said to me, ‘I don’t just want our place to be some old Western, honkytonk place in town. I want to be able to serve the community, too.’ So, I think he felt very strongly about us being there. I think it made him feel really good to be able to offer his contribution to the community.”
His kindness and generosity to the community did not go unnoticed, and Tifani said, she thinks Larry was kind of a legend or icon in Cave Creek. She said if someone was in need, he was the first one to help. He always had a smile and was known for his jokes.
“I think that if you ask a majority of people what their favorite memory of Larry is they would say his dad jokes or his one-liners, because he was full of them and they were hilarious,” Tifani said.
“He told the same ones over and over and over, but you still had to laugh every single time. One of his favorite one-liners is ‘Sometimes I wake up grumpy’ and then we’d say, ‘Oh?’ and then he says, ‘Well, sometimes I let her sleep,’ literally dad jokes, they’re not great. They are just dad jokes and one liners.”
Tifani shared that, as a daughter, her favorite memories of her father are the times when he came to watch his grandchildren compete in barrel racing, dance or cheer. She said he would have wanted to see them grow up and do what made them happy.
“I think, at the end of the day, Larry would just want to be remembered as somebody who loved God and who tried to do right by as many people as he can.”