The foodie community lost two entrepreneurial pioneers this month.
On October 7, Ben Ali, owner of Washington D.C.’s landmark Ben’s Chili Bowl passed away at age 82. Specializing in spicy and flavorful chili, as well as its trademark chili dogs and chili-covered half-smokes, this capital city hot spot is a favorite luncheon hang-out for native Washingtonians as well as its revolving door of newsmakers, actors, sports figures and of course, politicians .. most recently President Barack Obama. In business since 1958, Ben’s famous smothered sausages becomes Washington D.C.’s answer to the Philly Cheese Steak when the Washington Redskins face off against the Philadelphia Eagles.
A longtime fixture in the African-American business community, Ben’s is always crowded and it’s a place where the famous and not so famous congregate for plain, good, comfort food. Ali, the brains behind the business, catapulted his little chili dog business into a national phenomenon, with press coverage from almost every major media outlet, including the Food Network, CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Show, the New York Times and Gourmet, to name just a few.
Also passing away this month was William Alfred “Bill”Galloway, owner of the landmark Virginia Diner, who died October 13 at age 76. Galloway bought the famous road stop restaurant with his wife in 1976, and turned the tiny eatery with its adjacent gift shop and motel into one of America’s most talked about tourist stops. Galloway’s insightful business acumen took the diner’s signature dish ” peanut pie ” and made it the centerpiece of his promotional efforts. Soon, the Virginia Diner was dubbed the “Peanut Capital of the World,”with its offerings of various peanut-themed dishes, along with southern specialties such as country cured ham, fried chicken and flaky, buttermilk biscuits. In fact, Guy Fieri targeted the Wakefield, Virginia eatery as a regional favorite on the Food Network’s Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives.
Using the local peanut industry as a backdrop, Galloway automated the peanut cooking process and established a mail order business that continues to ship peanut and specialty items all over the globe.
Two outstanding food entrepreneurs who believed in good food and hard work have left behind their landmark legacies and memories. We will miss both Ben and Bill, but are confident that Ben’s Chili Bowl and the Virginia Diner will be here for many more years to come.
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