Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. establishment, plans enlargement, franchising

Ben’s Chili Bowl, the 65-year-old Washington restaurant recognized for its chili-smothered half-smokes — and for its position within the civil rights motion — will quickly be opening places nicely past the Beltway.

The restaurant will start providing an undetermined variety of franchises that may open in 2024, first alongside the East Coast after which doubtlessly shifting west, mentioned Vida Ali, the daughter-in-law of Virginia Ali, who opened Ben’s in 1958 together with her late husband, Ben.

The enlargement is a part of a “pandemic pivot” the household started in 2020, when eating places had been closed, Vida mentioned. First they turned to e-commerce, promoting items on their web site, and later branching into retail, with half-smokes and cans of chili now being offered at Washington-area Costcos. In a deal introduced final week, the merchandise can even be offered at 164 Big supermarkets in Washington, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.

Spring Eating Information: The 25 finest new eating places within the D.C. space

Virginia Ali, who will flip 90 in December, mentioned she is assured that the operators of the brand new places can keep the identical ethos of the unique. “The Chili Bowl has all the time been about good meals and serving the group,” she mentioned, noting that she has served presidents and homeless folks alike. “My three sons grew up on the Chili Bowl, and they’ll make it possible for wherever these franchisees are, that they get these values proper.”

Ali says she’ll be certain of it herself. “I plan to go to each certainly one of them, so long as I can,” she mentioned. “I’ll check out them.”

Along with its flagship restaurant on U Road NW, the place its ketchup-and-mustard-hued signage is an area landmark, Ben’s has a location on H Road NE, which opened in 2015, and in addition operates amenities at FedEx Discipline, Nationals Park, Reagan Nationwide Airport and the conference heart downtown. Whereas the eating places’ chili continues to be made each day in-house, to satisfy the demand for retail merchandise, Ben’s now makes use of a manufacturing firm in Alexandria.

Quickly after its founding, Ben’s grew to become a hub for civil rights activists: The 1963 March on Washington was deliberate there, and the restaurant fed protesters. Ben’s was permitted to stay open in the course of the 1968 riots — serving police and firefighters in addition to activists — whereas neighboring companies alongside the U Road hall burned. Through the years, it grew to become a magnet for celebrities, corresponding to Washington native Dave Chappelle, former president Barack Obama and a slew of passing-through-town musicians. The partitions are lined with images of well-known faces, and the jukebox is stocked with Motown and go-go.

From the archives: One girl has stirred the pot at Ben’s Chili Bowl for 40 years. Her title is Peaches.

It’s not arduous to think about copycat places mimicking Ben’s traditional diner-style inside and distinctive indicators. Vida Ali mentioned the franchise places would look “similar” to the unique and serve the identical menu, which options chili-topped canines, burgers and fries — and, lately, has expanded with vegetarian variations. The jukebox, too, shall be a should for any new location, she mentioned.

Through the years, Vida Ali mentioned, many individuals have approached their household desirous to open Ben’s places round the US and even overseas. However she mentioned they took their time in making a franchise plan. “We needed to ensure we did it proper,” she mentioned. “No matter operator opens a Ben’s, their first precedence shall be serving the group.”

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