Her Restaurant Served Civil Justice On A Golden Platter

shop front
Via Flickr
Adé Hennis
April 16, 2024

When Virginia Ali and her husband Ben established Ben’s Chili Bowl in 1958, little did they know that their restaurant would become a mainstay for generations of Black people.

During the Civil Rights Era, activists across the US needed hearty meals and craved a home away from home. Ben’s Chili Bowl was happy to provide them with both.

“It's comfort food, served like you're at home in your grandma's kitchen. I think that energizes, and makes those protesters feel appreciated.” Activists like MLK, Harry Belafonte, and Dick Gregory were all patrons, and Ali channeled that support back into her community through donations and participation in national civil rights protests.

Although the neighborhood has declined over the years, the word on the street is that Ben’s Chili Bowl is off-limits when it comes to crime. Even the neighborhood drug dealers feel responsible for protecting the business and respecting its owners. (The one time that the restaurant was broken into, a cigarette was the only thing taken.)

Virginia and Ben Ali founded more than just a restaurant with Ben’s Chili Bowl; they created a safe refuge that brought together people from all walks of life. We all can use our unique skills to unite our communities.