Ben’s Chili Bowl was founded on August 22, 1958, by Ben Ali, a Trinidadian-born immigrant who had studied dentistry at nearby Howard University, and his fiancée, Virginia-born Virginia Rollins. The two were married seven weeks after opening the restaurant.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, in addition to outposts at Nationals Stadium and FedEx Field. In 2015, we opened our third location on H Street, NE, and one year later opened Ben’s Upstairs located – you guessed it – upstairs from H Street.
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!