Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Awesomeness That Is Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington, DC

Bon Appetit has a terrific article on their website about the 10 Fast Food Restaurants that treat their workers really well.  It is an inspiring article that also makes for some positive contrast to the recent news of striking fast food workers. Of the places mentioned, I have not or may not visit most of them in my lifetime due to location, but if in their areas, I would seek them out not just because their food sounds awesome, but because I know how well they are treating their associates. One of the joints mentioned I have been to a few times though, and I'm proud to say I have.
The K-Man and I lived in the Washington, D.C. area for a couple of years and during that time, I visited the famous Ben's Chili Bowl more than once. I truly revel in little independents like this, particularly when they come with a storied history and Ben's certainly has written quite the tale for itself in its 55-years. 
Opened in 1958, Ben's Chili Bowl has truly seen it all. Ben's opened in the U Street Corridor and this was known as "Black Broadway" at the time.  Typically performing nearby, everyone from Duke Ellington to Miles Davis to Bill Cosby hit up Ben's for one of their soon-to-be-famous chiliburgers or half-smokes. Dr.Martin Luther King was also a customer. In 1968 after Dr. King's assassination, DC was nearly undone from the rioting but when the city closed down, Ben's stayed open.  Ben's obtained special police permission to stay open to serve the firefighters, police and the activists all during those tumultuous days. U Street, like much of DC, struggled to survive after the rioting, but Ben's stayed open through it all.  Bill Cosby, who courted his wife at Ben's remained a lifelong fan and in the 80's, promoted the Cosby Show from Ben's.  U Street was revitalized years later, and while Ben's enjoyed the fruits of the revitalization they remained, and continue to remain, blessedly the same.  Their website tells of how customers asked them repeatedly to never change a thing and they listened. The booths are original and that secret sauce has never been altered. Family members of founders Ben and Virginia Ali still roam the floor, demonstrating the same warm service.  Ben's Chili Bowl celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2008 with a big bash emceed by Cosby. Ten days before his inauguration, Barack Obama had to visit Ben's for a half-smoke.
And speaking of half-smokes, Mr. Cosby's favorite was also mine....the signature dish of half pork, half-beef smoked sausage with mustard, onions and that spicy homemade sauce that is to die for. Ben's uses 100% certified Angus beef and local produce to create their little wonders.  And yes, there are turkey burger and vegetarian options on the menu, but the original eats have not changed a lick and this is a very good thing, Martha. It's all enough reason to admire Ben's, but hit that link at the top of the page to read why Ben's (among others) is also known for treating their associates well. There are reasons why the average Ben's employee has been there for more than 16 years.  Ben's is a pristine example of how happiness and love can also certainly translate to killer flavor.
Carry on, Ben's Chili Bowl!  May you continue to be the example of what a business should do...and be... for the rest of your days. 


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