Remembering Founder Of Iconic D.C. Restaurant
GUY RAZ, Host:
This past week, Ben Ali, the founder of Ben's Chili Bowl, died at the age of 82.
MAURICE HARCUM: He was pretty stern, pretty much into detail about how he wanted his store ran. And he didn't take any mess.
RAZ: Ben Ali was an immigrant from Trinidad. When he opened the Chili Bowl, U Street was known as America's black Broadway, a strip of shops and theaters where Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole played to packed houses. But as Maurice Harcum explains, Ben's is one of the few places on the street that survived and thrived during its ups and downs.
HARCUM: U Street was torn apart after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Everything was tore apart except for us. We survived the drug wars. There were shootings and rival gang wars right out front of here, but they never brought it in here.
RAZ: Long-time regular John Shetfield(ph) sits at the counter, waiting for his chili half-smoke.
JOHN SHETFIELD: I was here during the riots. And during the riots, they touched everybody's places but this place, you know, because Ben always reached out to the ones underprivileged, you know, never said no to nobody that I know.
RAZ: Local Anthony Pedaway(ph) says they come here to the house Ben Ali built for one simple reason.
ANTHONY PEDAWAY: It's the Chili Bowl spot. You had to get a hot dog. That was the main attraction of coming up U Street, you know, all of the lights, you know, the people were out here, the pimps and all of that, but it was Ben's Chili Bowl.
RAZ: It's rumored that Ben Ali never actually tried his famous half-smoke. He was a practicing Muslim who observed his faith's prohibition on eating pork. But at least once a month, up until the day he died, you could find Ben Ali standing behind the same lunch counter he made famous.
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