Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC to Give Away Free Half Smokes on Tuesday, August 22 for 65th Anniversary 

In Celebration of it’s 65th anniversary, Ben’s Chili Bowl at 1213 U ST in NW, Washington DC, will be giving away free meals (Half Smoke, Beef Dog, Turkey Dog or Veggie Dog) with a bag of chips and a soda starting at 1:30PM on August 22nd. The offer is only valid at the original U Street location and will be available while supplies last. Additional information and a history of Ben’s Chili Bowl below:

“Ben’s Chili Bowl began as a dream of Ben & Virginia Ali, and with their $5,000 life savings, the young couple first opened the doors of their now iconic restaurant on August 22, 1958.  For over 65 years, Ben’s has been a staple in Washington, DC serving locals, celebrities, presidents, and tourists from around the world.

All of us at Ben’s are humbled by and thankful for the love and support we constantly receive from our guests and the city of Washington, DC as we continue to build upon the rich history of community service that Ben’s has been known for throughout the years.

As we celebrate 65 years, we would love to show our appreciation by giving back to our community by offering a special treat to our wonderful guests.  Starting at 1:30PM, we will be offering a free meal* to everyone at our Original U Street location where it all began. 

“Ben’s Chili Bowl offers DC residents more than just good food, it is an institution that inspires black business owners to win big for DC,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser. “We are grateful to Ben’s Chili Bowl for making DC proud for 65 years.”

A Brief History of Ben’s

  • August 22, 1958 – Ben & Virginia opened the doors of Ben’s Chili Bowl in segregated Washington, DC on the street known as Black Broadway in DC – 1213 U Street.  Ben’s was a hit from the beginning, and it quickly became a gathering place for people from all walks of life.  Activists such as Dr. King, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Stokely Carmichael, Dick Gregory, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, and others were regular guests, in addition to artists like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Pearl Bailey, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, and many others.

  • August 28, 1963 – the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech – He frequented “the Bowl” and Virginia often enjoyed sitting with him over meals and encouraging him as he shared his dreams and plans.

  • April 4, 1968 – Dr. King was assassinated – During the 3-day curfew, when nearly all businesses were closed, the DC Government asked Ben’s to remain open to serve activists, locals, and first responders.

  • 1968 – 1988 – U Street took a downward turn after the riots, and most businesses didn’t reopen.  Drugs and prostitution took over, but Ben’s remained open with only one or two employees to serve the community during those difficult years.

  • 1988 – 1992 – The DC Government decided to build a subway line under U St, right at Ben’s Chili Bowl’s front door.  The U St excavation created a 60-foot-deep hole directly in front of Ben’s from 1988 to 1992, when the subway finally opened.  Businesses began opening on U Street, and the community finally started booming again.

  • January 10, 2009 – Barack Obama’s first public outing in DC as President-Elect was a visit to Ben’s Chili Bowl with Mayor Fenty, a visit that made news around the world.

  • 2010 – George Washington University enshrined Ben’s Chili Bowl’s historic papers, documents and photos into its main Gelman Library, and all documents have been digitized for students and scholars throughout the world to examine.

  • 2020 – The Pandemic – Ben’s Chili Bowl became the business that represented small American business in the media.  We received media coverage from around the world, including a Google television and print ad campaign that asked us what it takes for small businesses to survive Covid.

  • 2021 – The family of George Floyd came to visit Ben’s immediately after the march that was held for their brother.  They met with Virginia, affectionately known as “Mom,” and expressed how proud they were of Ben’s.

  • Ben’s is recognized worldwide as a business that represents a Community, a City, and a Culture.

  • Tourists from all over the world make reservations to visit Ben’s, including large groups.

  • Ben’s has won numerous awards and accolades, including being inducted into the Washington D.C. Hall of Fame, being a Washington Business Hall of Fame 2021 Laureate, and being awarded The President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from President Joseph R. Biden, the America’s Classics award from the James Beard Foundation, The Key to the City, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington Duke Zeibert’s Capital Achievement Award, and the title of America’s “Best Vegan Chili” by PETA.

  • Celebrities like Dave Chappelle, Jimmy Fallon, Bruno Mars, Chance the Rapper, Kevin Hart, Bono, Nick Cannon, Steve Harvey, DL Hughley, Taraji P Henson, Tyrese, Tommy Davidson, George Lopez, Usher, Cheryl Underwood, Chris Tucker, Serena Williams, Questlove, DJ Khaled, Chris Rock, Wale, George Clinton, and countless others enjoy dining at Ben’s when they visit DC.

  • Ben’s has also been featured in numerous film, TV and print media, including Oprah, Anthony Bourdain, CBS Nightly News, CNN, Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS Sunday Morning, to name a few, plus movies like Russell Crowe’s “State of Play,” Denzel Washington’s “The Pelican Brief,” Don Cheadle’s “Talk to Me,” the Netflix series “Designated Survivor,” and many more.

  • Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, members of the US Congress, and many other noteworthy political figures have stopped by to sample the world-famous Ben’s cuisine.

Despite all the worldwide recognition and fame, residents of DC, Maryland and Virginia know the real truth about Ben’s Chili Bowl, and that truth is simple:  They know that Ben’s is first and foremost about FAMILY and COMMUNITY.  For 65 years, Ben’s has graciously served the people, and every guest has always been embraced as family. When segregation was still alive in the US, Ben’s offered a peaceful gathering place and safe haven for ALL people, regardless of any differences in background or perspective. Society has grown and changed, but Ben’s remains the same and continues to celebrate people from all walks of life as they come together to eat, laugh, and discuss life as they see it.

Ben’s is still run by Virginia Ali, our matriarch at 89 years old, her 3 sons (Sage, Kamal, and Nizam), and 2 of her daughters-in-law (Vida and Sonya). The entire family works together daily in their restaurants, as well as on Ben’s Retail and Franchising development.  Mom is still vibrant as ever, and she still enjoys greeting her beloved guests at Ben’s as she has done since that first day in 1958.

*We partnered with Pepsi and Lays to give our guests a free meal (Choice of Half Smoke, Beef Dog, Turkey Dog or Veggie Dog with a bag of chips and a soda or bottled water).  This offer is only available starting at 1:30PM on August 22nd, 2023 at our Original U Street location while supplies last.  Note: One free meal limit per guest, only in-person at Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street.

For additional information, please contact Vida Ali at (310) 859-4730 or via email at [email protected]

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