Mary Lou Camacho, "Lou-Lou", serves a "fat chicken" sandwich at Pantry One on April 28, 2017, in Bethlehem. The sandwich, made of chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, french fries, sauces and toppings, has become a go-to late-night snack for Lehigh students. (Annie Henry/B&W Staff)

The face behind the “fat chicken”: Lou-Lou connects with Lehigh students at Pantry One

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When someone says “fat chicken,” most people would think of an overweight farm animal. However, Lehigh students think of a sandwich, and the person behind the counter who makes it.

Mary Lou Camacho, often referred to as “Lou-Lou,”  has been working at Pantry One, or P1, convenience store for nine years. Located just off Lehigh’s campus on East Morton Street, the store is visited by students for groceries and late night snacks. It is best known for its sandwich, “the fat chicken,” which falls at the top of the list of Lehigh staples.

On any given night, Lou-Lou can be found serving the deep-fried sandwich that nearly overflows with a variety of toppings.

Lou-Lou begins with a hoagie roll as a base and adds mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders and french fries. The sandwich is then topped with any kind of sauce or cheese the customer desires — the most popular choices include ranch, buffalo sauce and mozzarella-Italian cheese. After cooking in the oven for two to three minutes, the fat chicken sandwich is removed, and Lou-Lou adds lettuce, tomato, oregano, salt and pepper.

“I live in Campus Square, which is right across the street, so I go to P1 a lot because it’s so easy,” Vanessa Rodriguez, ’17, said. “I usually go there for groceries during the day, but I always go at night after the bar to get some food before bed, and of course to see Lou-Lou.”

The popularity of the sandwich has caused students to become repeat customers who have formed friendships with Lou-Lou.

“Lou-Lou is like a mom, she will tell you like it is and knows everyone,” Rodriguez said.

Lou-Lou said Lehigh students’ late night visits are what she enjoys most about her job. She said her favorite part is seeing students come through Lehigh and seeing them accomplish what they came here to do.

“I live across the street, but even on my days off, I come over here” Lou-Lou said. “I don’t know what I would do without coming in and the kids. It keeps me going, and I just love my job.”

Lou-Lou said most students order the sandwiches on their way home from the bars. The circumstance makes for funny student encounters and stories that never fail to make her smile.

Amanda Granger, ’17, said she had her first fat chicken “far too late in life” during her junior year. Since then, Granger has become a fan of the sandwich and Lou-Lou herself.

“Lou-Lou is one of the only adults who could survive dealing with us Lehigh students from the hours of 11(p.m.)-3 a.m.,” Granger said. “I can honestly say she never doesn’t make me laugh. She takes the time to get to know people and makes people feel special.”

Lou-Lou said it is mainly Lehigh students and alumni who come in for the sandwich, but recently, the Bethlehem community has started to order it, too. In the past school year, Lou-Lou has made over a thousand “fat chickens,” with topping preferences varying from person to person. 

The sandwich has been on the menu at P1 for five years. The recipe originally came from the store owner’s son, who saw the concept at a restaurant in Rutgers University in New Jersey. When it first appeared on the P1 menu, a Lehigh student coined the sandwich the “fat Albert,” but it is now known as “the fat chicken.”

Students enjoy the sandwich and appreciate Lou-Lou’s patience during her late-night shifts.

“I would just want to say thank you for dealing with us, Lou-Lou,” Granger said. “Oh, and you make one heck of a fat chicken.”

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