Our History

In 1958, newlyweds Ben and Virginia Ali used $5,000 to begin renovating a building at 1213 U Street.  Built in 1910, it first housed a silent movie house called the Minnehaha Theater.  Later, Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first Black police detectives, converted it into a pool hall.

On August 22, 1958, Ben’s Chili Bowl opened for business.

From the tumult of the late 60’s race riots to the tough times in the 70’s and 80’s and finally to the revitalization of the U Street Corridor beginning in the 90’s, Ben’s has seen it all.  Bill Cosby and thousands of others attended our 45th anniversary in August 2003.

And just ten days before his inauguration on January 10, 2009, President-Elect Barack Obama visited and ate lunch here.

After a 50 plus year journey, business is booming and the Ben’s brand is red hot.  Ben’s has also expanded by opening a new restaurant and bar called Ben’s Next Door [www.bensnextdoor.com], in addition to outposts at Nationals Stadium and FedEx Field.

The one constant we’ve had since 1958 has been the loyalty of our customers, and we listened when you said, “whatever you do, never change this place.”  The counter, booths and stools are all original; the fresh homemade chili is still made with love, using the same secret recipe.  To our customers and especially our regulars, we appreciate you and thank you for supporting Ben’s.  To those reading this that have yet to come to Ben’s, we look forward to seeing you very soon!

View Timeline

Download Full History


Press Info

Ben’s Chili Bowl welcomes members of the media to learn more about our storied history and current events.  For any press inquiries, photo or interview requests, please email Nizam Ali or ask for Vida Ali when calling 202-667-0909.


BEN’S IN THE NEWS

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Bill Cosby Remembers Ben Tom Joyner’s All-Star Tribute Huggy Lowdown’s Tribute

 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Does Ben’s Chili Bowl accept credit cards?

We do not at the original U Street location but we do have an ATM on the premises there for your convenience.  We do accept credit cards at Ben’s in Arlington.

Does Ben’s have parking?

YES!  We have leased about 10 parking spaces directly behind Ben’s so you don’t have to search for parking.  From U Street, take the alley to the left of Ben’s named Ben Ali Way (named after founder Ben Ali), past the store and to the rear where you will see signs against a large brick wall saying ‘Ben’s Chili Bowl Customer Parking.’  Or you may turn on 12th Street, make a left on V Street and then turn left into Ben Ali Way to find parking. If no spots are available, please circle the block for street parking.

How can I contact Ben’s Chili Bowl?

For general inquiries, comments, or suggestions it’s best to send us an email.

How can I get a job working at Ben’s?

If you’re interested in joining our team, please email us a brief cover letter and resume.

Do you have table service?

We do offer table service to all patrons for breakfast only.  After 11am, table service is only available for groups of 5 or more persons paying together.  All others we ask to please order in the line or along the counter.

Is Ben’s environmentally responsible?

Yes, we are very conscious of our environment and the world around us.  We know that what we do today will affect all of our kids tomorrow and that we only have one Earth on which to live.  In 2007, we switched all of our electric power over to 100% wind power.  We have also replaced all of the light bulbs we can with fluorescents.  If you have any further suggestions for us please let us know!

Does your french fry oil contain trans fat?

No.  In 2007 we switched to a trans fat free fry oil.  It costs us more, but hey you’re worth it!

Are your veggie burgers and veggie chili vegan?

Yes.  Our veggie burgers are vegan as is our homemade veggie chili; our veggie dogs are not vegan.

Do you deliver?

No we do not deliver.

Does Ben’s cater?

Not officially.  It is true that we do not do full scale set up and delivery catering.  That being said, we do offer options to help you cater your own event.  We can provide several gallons of hot Chili Con Carne and Veggie Chili for you function and provide you with bowls, spoons, napkins, crackers etc. so that you don’t have to worry.  We can also make homemade cole slaw, potato salad and corn muffins to compliment your large chili order.  Need 100 dogs or half-smokes?  Just give us a call at 202-667-0909 or email us, but remember you will have to arrange for pick up of your order.  (**Check out the Group Info page and download the Group Menu pdf)

Where was Ben born?

Trinidad, West Indies