WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Thousands of people crowded onto the 1200 block of U St. NW on Wednesday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the "home of the original chili half-smoke", Ben's Chili Bowl.
"The people turned out today as they’ve done always for the past 60 years and for that I’m grateful," said Virginia Ali, who co-founded the restaurant with her husband Ben in 1958. During that time the restaurant survived the 1968 riot following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the crack-cocaine epidemic, and the construction of the Metro along U Street. Ali said at one point, things were so slow that only she and another employee worked the store. "It’s been a challenge, but we felt like this is the nation’s capital. It’s got to come back and it has come back. We waited a very long time, we didn’t think we’d wait 20 years, but we did and we’re glad we did."
And in that time, Ben's has become more than just a hotspot for locals, but for tourists as well.
"They said, we came to see the White House and we came to eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl. The White House and Ben’s? Hello, I mean that’s a tribute to us," said Dr. Bernard Demczuk, Ben's historian, referring to what many tourists tell him when they come to the restaurant.
The restaurant also became a stop-in for many celebrities, but for Ali one stands out above all others during her 60 years in business: president-elect Barack Obama.
"For his first visit out in Washington was here at Ben’s Chili Bowl. That had a big impact and being my age, and I’ll be 85 in a couple of months, to see this African-American become president was just more than I had ever dreamed of," said Ali.
To mark the 60th milestone, the District gave the 1200 block of U Street the honorary name of "Ben's Chili Bowl Way".