Ben Ali of Ben's Chili Bowl Dies
Ben Ali, who founded the famous Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, died last night at his DC home of congestive heart failure. He was 82. A full story is forthcoming, but here's a piece that we ran on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the restaurant
-- one of the few businesses to remain open on U Street during the 1968 riots.
Ben's Celebrates Chili Power
Big Stars and Just Plain Folks Mark Eatery's 50-Year Run on U Street
By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008
It was 1996, and Nizam Ali had just gotten his law degree. Instead of heading to the courtroom, he had another idea: He wanted to help run the family business.
Ali told his father, Ben, that if he couldn't double the revenue at Ben's Chili Bowl within a year, he'd fall back on that legal career. To meet his goal, he went well beyond the walls of the landmark restaurant on U Street NW. He became a promoter, visiting radio stations with free hot dogs, hamburgers and half-smokes -- all covered in Ben's trademark spicy chili. Radio personalities talked up the food, and the legend of the Chili Bowl grew.
Sales surged during that year as Nizam and his older brother, Kamal, oversaw the restaurant's operations -- so much so that Ben and his wife, Virginia, decided to step back and leave the restaurant they had founded in the hands of their sons.
This week, the District's most famous neighborhood diner turns 50. The family is hosting a free gala tonight at the Lincoln Theatre, with celebrities including Bill Cosby and Roberta Flack. That will be followed by a street festival tomorrow in front of the restaurant, at 1213 U St. NW, and a musical tribute Sunday down the street at the 9:30 club.
When they aren't behind the counter flipping burgers or scooping chili, the Ali brothers are figuring out ways to capitalize on the Ben's brand. They launched a line of souvenir baseball caps, key chains and tote bags. The Alis also helped with a book on the place's history and set up a Web site, http://benschilibowl.com
. And they struck a deal to sell Ben's fare at the Washington Nationals' new ballpark.
[More at above link.]