Larry Wendt, Former Top Sheriff's Official Praised by Republic for Restaurant-Running Skills, had Previous -- and Controversial -- Eatery Experience

buffalo chip restaurant.jpg
The Buffalo Chip restaurant in Cave Creek is owned by one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's former top deputies, Larry Wendt

A recent Arizona Republic story about a former top sheriff's deputy running a restaurant should have been included in its commendable series on public pensions, it seemed to us.


The story begins:

Twelve years ago, after working for several years in law enforcement, Larry Wendt left his job as a deputy chief for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

But he wasn't ready to do all those things traditionally associated with retirement. After all, he was only 41.

So, about a year later, he decided to get into the restaurant business. He bought Buffalo Chip, a Wild West landmark in Cave Creek.

"I wasn't ready to break out the golf clubs and fishing rods," Wendt said. "I thought it would be a hobby, but I probably haven't spent a whole day away from the Buffalo Chip in 11 years. It's been very enjoyable."

And profitable.

If you're like us, you're wondering: How could a public servant like a deputy even consider a retirement with "golf clubs and fishing rods," (not to mention how he could afford to buy a restaurant) at the tender age of 41? Guy must be a helluva saver, right?

A Google search shows there's a bit more to Wendt's restaurant story.

This wasn't Wendt's first business venture. And his ability to save money and maximize his time -- well, let's just say that he's got experience in those areas, according to a 1996 New Times article.

The article by former New Times writer Tony Ortega (now editor of the Village Voice in New York City) describes how, back in the day, Wendt was alleged to have run a previous restaurant on county time, sometimes with the help of his county vehicle.

Wendt, a former deputy chief who was "third or fourth in the office pecking order" under Arpaio, used to operate a lucrative barbecue business called Cowpunchers. His ex-wife alleged that Wendt ran the business when he should have been at his county job, and the accusation was backed up by others:

County health worker Tom Dominick, for example, has no interest in the Wendts' custody battle. So far in 1996, he's inspected Cowpunchers five times. Coincidentally, all five inspections occurred on weekdays. And, says Dominick, Larry Wendt was present each time.

Republic writer Philip Haldiman's short, November 29 article -- headlined "Bull rides keep saloon hopping" -- wasn't intended to be investigative piece.

But when writing about a retiree from Arpaio's office who bought a restaurant 11 years ago as a "hobby," it's always nice to have that extra bit of context, isn't it?

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