In 2005, Ethiopian restaurateurs led a campaign to rename a strip of Ninth Street between U and T Little Ethiopia, to reflect the contributions that Ethiopians made to the Shaw neighborhood over the previous decade. These business leaders faced backlash, however, from Shaw’s African-American community who thought the renaming campaign discounted the neighborhood’s proud African-American history.
According to co-founder Virginia Ali, Ben’s Chili Bowl has never been “your typical restaurant.” Unlike other diners of the 1950s, Virginia’s husband Ben thought “Washington might be hungry for the kind of spicy dishes he had known while growing up in the Caribbean,” and so he created his own recipe for chili con carne—which remains a closely guarded family secret. A unique element of the restaurant at the beginning, was that “Ben’s spicy chili was served only atop hot dogs, half-smokes or hamburgers,” and not by the bowl as the place’s name would suggest. Ben’s invention of the chili half-smoke quickly become D.C.’s staple food item, and for the next 20 years, loyal Washingtonians overcame a slew of significant obstacles to get their fix.