NPR logo Founder Of Ben's Chili Bowl, A D.C. Institution, Has Died

Founder Of Ben's Chili Bowl, A D.C. Institution, Has Died

Bill Cosby, Virginia Ali and Ben Ali, left-to-right, in 2003. Dennis Cook/AP hide caption

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Dennis Cook/AP

Bill Cosby, Virginia Ali and Ben Ali, left-to-right, in 2003.

Dennis Cook/AP

If you've spent much time in the nation's capital over the past 50 years you've surely heard of Ben's Chili Bowl, which as Post Mortem writes is "a landmark D.C. eatery that has fed presidents, celebrities and the common folks."

The chili joint's founder, Ben Ali, died last night at the age of 82. Post Mortem says congestive heart failure was the cause of death.

The restaurant tells its story here:

On Aug. 22, 1958, Ben's Chili Bowl was born. It was an exciting time on the U Street corridor, which was then known as "Black Broadway." Top performers could be found playing sets in clubs along the corridor, as well as eating and just "hanging out" at Ben's. It was not uncommon to see such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Martin Luther King Jr., or Bill Cosby at "The Bowl."

As The Washington Post noted last year, Ben's was one of the few businesses in its neighborhood to remain open "and untouched" during the 1968 riots following the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., "thanks largely to Stokely Carmichael, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which used the restaurant as a meeting place."

Ali, an immigrant from Trinidad, ran the restaurant with his wife before giving up day-to-day operations to two of his sons in the late 1990s.

In January, then-president-elect Barack Obama stopped by for a half-smoke, giving the already hot spot another boost in business.

Ben's got the presidential OK. Joshua Roberts/Pool/Getty Images hide caption

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Joshua Roberts/Pool/Getty Images

Ben's got the presidential OK.

Joshua Roberts/Pool/Getty Images