Jun 29, 2023 - Food and Drink

D.C.'s Ben’s Chili Bowl is expanding — and Richmond is a top contender for a spot

Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street in 2022. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Ben’s Chili Bowl the iconic, 65-year-old D.C. restaurant best known for its half-smokes and its role in civil rights — may be opening a location in Richmond.

Driving the news: The U Street restaurant where the March on Washington was planned in 1963 is gearing up to franchise along the East Coast beginning next year, the Washington Post reports.

  • And Richmond is one of the first cities they're targeting, Vida Ali, daughter-in-law of Ben’s owner Virginia Ali, tells Axios.
  • Vida said Richmonders regularly make the trek to D.C. for Ben's and often plan their whole day around the trip.

Customers have been asking Ben's to franchise for years, Vida says, but it wasn't until the pandemic and all the restaurant pivots that came with it that they started seriously considering it.

  • Franchising is the latest 21st century upgrade for the legendary restaurant, which launched e-commerce on its site in 2020 and last week added its half-smokes and chili to hot bars at Giant grocery stores in the DMV.

What they're saying: "I think Richmond would love having us," matriarch Virginia tells Axios. "I'm a Virginia girl."

  • Virginia Ali, who turns 90 this year and opened the original restaurant in 1958 with her late husband Ben, grew up in Tappahannock and attended Virginia Union in Richmond "for a little while," she tells Axios. Her younger sister is a VUU grad.

What's next: They're in the "very early, very baby steps" of the franchising plan, per Vida, but she hopes to have news to share in the coming months.


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