Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles Sues Parolee-Investor

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Left: Chicken. Right: Waffle.

People like Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles— they just placed on Serious Eats Chicago's list of 14 great fried chicken places in town, for instance. And that's good, because they certainly have a knack for trouble otherwise. They had to change their name after their original one— Rosscoe's— was just one "S" off, well, only the most famous chicken and waffles place on earth, Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles in Los Angeles. And now, according to, they're suing a would-be partner and investor, La-Van Hawkins, with a checkered track record (there's a pun there, as you'll shortly see), claiming he stole their recipes.

La-Van Hawkins, who the paper describes frankly as "a high school dropout, one-time gang leader and former coke addict," built a small empire as a fast food franchisee for Pizza Hut, Burger King, Checkers and other chains. But he went to prison in a wire fraud and perjury case in Philadelphia in 2004, and was convicted in 2009 of tax evasion, paying $5.7 million in restitution and again serving time. (You can read his version at his website.)

Out and seeking to rebuild his business, Hawkins approached Darnell and Tonya Johnson, owner of the two Chicago's Home of Chicken & Waffles, claiming to have bank financing of $150 million behind him and spinning visions of expansion. But they came to suspect shady side dealings, including trying to secure an expansion location they were looking at behind their backs, and attempts to get their secret recipes, while the promised money never materialized. They're now suing him for $20 million, having made up their minds pretty firmly:

"We don't want him as a partner, we're not comfortable, we do not trust him, and we don't want any part of anything that might be illegal or fraudulent," Darnell Johnson said. "All we want to do is protect ourselves and move forward where they can't take any of our trade secrets or open any of our style of restaurants."

Oak Park restaurateurs sue former partner []