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Monday, October 31, 2011

CP: Ben's Chili Bowl Buys on H Street

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The City Paper reports that the owners of DC landmark Ben's Chili Bowl have purchased George's Place (a men's clothing store on the corner of 10th and H Street). The owner of the building is closing George's Place to retire and he'd spoken to several potential buyers. According to the article it might not be a Ben's II. The new owners expect to spend the next three months looking at the market before they settle on a concept for the space.

69 comments:

Dave B said...

A different concept? I dont want to sound like the head of the patent office in the 1800s who said that "everything that can be invented has been invented".

What can Ben's open that would fill a void? The only thing I can think of is one of those stupid salad places.

We don't have a chili/sausage/hot dog place

Anonymous said...

I don't care what you guys decide to do..just as long as I can get some half smokes there

Dave B said...

I havent really thought much about this, but most of the businesses opening in the area have done so in rehabilitated places likely bought on the cheaper side. The exception is the Big Board spot, which just recycles itself

Ben's seems to have paid full price for a place in good condition. Can any of our urban planning/real estate experts point to this being some kind of new phase for H St? It seems like it would be a good data point for other property owners possibly looking to sell

bob said...

h street is noticeably missing:

1, a crab shack
2. a family restaurant
3. a pupusaria
4. thai
5. bagels
6. a vegetarian restaurant

inked said...

bob,
I consider the Argonaut to be a family restaurant. It's not Chuck E. Cheese, but they do have a kid's night.

I'd also add Indian and Italian to that list.

East_H said...

I'm also not sure what other type of establishment they are considering opening. I think a Ben's II, with a throwback facade reminiscent of the original, would do crazy business at 10th and H.

Good news all around, though. Sounds like the Ben's guys called George's bluff on the crazy asking price.

Anonymous said...

Wait, aren't the owners of Ben's black? But, I thought all the "black" owners were being pushed out because of gentrification? Something doesn't fit the Post's narrative about H Street and gentrification.

Welcome Ben's! We wish you all the best and will frequent often if you provide good food at reasonable prices with a smile!

Big Boi said...

I hope they stick with the original Ben's formula. Please, don't try and make it an "upscale" version of Ben's on U Street. They could sell a zillion half smokes if they stick with what works.

Tom A. said...

we need a bakey and a gym to work off of the bakery goodness!

Anonymous said...

Ben's is iconic, no doubt. But I think its history is what makes it such a landmark. Not sure how I feel about the potential of a Ben's II being set up on H St. To be completely honest, I find the food to be pretty disgusting.

Trinidaddy said...

please please please bring your half-smokes here. Make it a carbon copy of your join on U St. Please?

Actualizadora said...

I've always thought of H street as the Brooklyn of DC. I don't care what kind of cuisine it is as long as it is delicious and its a new service or food concept.

Roxanneismyalterego said...

Don't know how long it will be valid for, but ScoutMob has a deal today for a free slice of pie at Dangerously Delicious.

http://scoutmob.com/washington-dc/deal/1612

ro said...

Dang. where am i supposed to buy my lime green suits and purple gators now?

Anonymous said...

I don't think Ben's is that good. In fact I think it's pretty terrible. I lived almost next to Bens on U st, before I started renting my condo and bought my house on H street. I never understood why people would stand in long lines at 3am for burnt-tasting chili and a greasy hot dog.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 8:25. I don't particularly see Ben's as a good thing. Just another fast food restaurant in my mind.

Anonymous said...

Ben's is pretty disgusting, but it's iconic and once or twice a year it hits the spot. I think a Ben's II would kill it at 10th & H.

Anonymous said...

Horace and Dickies is iconic too and it's crap. Ben's is the same. Disapointing news to me - IF they open up another Chili Bowl. Seems like they may be considering something else.

Chris said...

Ben's is fabulous. Best news about H I've heard in quite a while. Hope it's similar to the one on U.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I hope that it is a Ben's chili bowl but they will get a lot of crap from ANC 6A about it. It may even bring richie Luna back out of the woodwork. The tables must have white table clothes with silverware and wait service. So expect the half smokes to cost at least $15.

Big Ben said...

Ben's is pretty disgusting. To reiterate my experience from earlier in the summer, upon messing up our order another "head waitress" came over to our table, picked up all our plates, drinks and nonchalantly carried them over to the unsuspecting people at a table nearby. The only caveat being that a few of us had already started eating from our plates!! She did leave us one coke though. Glad I didn't order anything. We were absolutely stunned and felt bad for the people at the other table who were basically eating leftovers.

Anonymous said...

Be careful Big Ben, can't talk trash about DC institutions on here or you'll soon be attacked. Ben's Chili Bowl has the best dawgs on the planet and Horrace and Dickies offers the best fried fish in the city - because they're "DC institutions." And while I'm at it, Marion Barry is a DC institution as well so better not touch him. H St. would be better without either of these fast food establishments.

Big Ben said...

I am not talking trash. Just reciting my experience.

dgh said...

I had H & D's one time in 11 years...enough said.

dgh said...

Yes, I will also state that we could use a bakery here..one that sells fresh breads and pastries...

curmudgeon said...

Some people here have complained about H&D being a bad neighbor. I have no idea about that; I have no firsthand experience, so I have to defer to the people that actually do live within a few houses of them. What I do know is that I like their fish sandwiches. As for Ben's, it's unfortunate that a few people have had bad service there; but I probably eat there four times a year or so, and have never had an unpleasant experience. Not once. I'd eat there more often if I made it to U Street more often; but as it is, I drop in when I get the opportunity. I think it's great. If the one that opens on H is like the one on U, then that'll leave the 9:30 Club as the only reason to go to that neighborhood anymore, for me.

bangbangcanary.com said...

sweet mercy

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the service at Bens is pretty terrible, but it's terrible everywhere in DC. It's a symptom of the rights that the educated work force is entitled to spilling over into the industry. For some unknown reason here (maybe proximity to Federal Government and productive people who actually deserve legal protection in the workplace?) people think that a waitress deserves the same consideration as an engineer. In other parts of the country the surly waitress or bartender is fired.

But the point of all this is that yes the service at Bens is terrible, but that observation that Big Ben made is clearly false.

Big Ben said...

It's not the service problem but rather not adhering to environmentally conscious, safe and sanitary restaurant practices and training their staff to do so. It will be absolutely unacceptable for a reputable restaurant to swap plates from one table to another once the plates were laid down. However, what do you expect from an establishment that serves food in Styrofoam plates and cups.

Chris said...

big ben wrote: It's not the service problem but rather not adhering to environmentally conscious, safe and sanitary restaurant practices and training their staff to do so.

How do you know that? How do you know that it wasn't one dumbass giving bad service, rather than an organization-wide issue? Have you seen multiple servers doing that multiple times? You didn't mention that in your earlier comment.

big Ben said...

There were actually 2 servers (one who served us while the other who appeared to be the heard server) who collectively took all the plates and moved them over. Had they been trained well at least one of them would raised an objection.

Anonymous said...

The thing is that the event big Ben is talkIng about never actually happened. A waitress did not take food from your table and put it on another table.

Anonymous said...

Told you BigBen. I agree with you 100%, but you start talking about DC instiutions (Ben's Chili, Horace & Dickies, and Marion Barry) and you start stirring up a whole bunch of shit on here. Let me prepare you, you're going to be called a racist that doesn't like black owned businesses next. Watch.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of fast food, anybody know what's going on with the two pizza places at 1421 H (Angelico H) and 1387 H (Slice of Life)? I haven't seen any movement in either building like almost a year.

charles said...

"people think that a waitress deserves the same consideration as an engineer"

yes, it's called basic human respect

andrew said...

Actually, yeah. I've noticed a sharp uptick in thinly-coded uses of the word "entitlement" on the blogosphere over the past few weeks.

As far as I can tell, it's code for "Lower-middle-class African American workers want to be treated with basic respect and human dignity," which some people are evidently *outraged* about...

"Entitled" to be treated like a white-collar worker. "Entitled" to equal protection under the law. "Entitled" to be able to walk down the street without being questioned by a cop.

If you have unattentive or rude service, feel free to call that out; don't leave a tip, talk to the manager, and give the business a chance to resolve your complaint. Failing that, call the health department, and write a bad review on Yelp.

However, don't use thinly-veiled racism and classism to make your point. It doesn't add to the dialogue, or work toward achieving any sort of meaningful result or improvement.

If workers at small business are performing poorly at their jobs, it's an issue of bad management, and little more. "Entitlement" has nothing to do with it, and is frankly a bizarre word to use.

Anonymous said...

Please not another fast food grease generating place (ala H&D's) on H St. I really hope the Ali family thinks outside the box and comes up with something creative that will wow us. If anything, their market research should show people here haven't greeted greasy fast food business ideas favorably in the past.

Chris said...

Andrew wrote: Actually, yeah. I've noticed a sharp uptick in thinly-coded uses of the word "entitlement" on the blogosphere over the past few weeks.

As far as I can tell, it's code for "Lower-middle-class African American workers want to be treated with basic respect and human dignity," which some people are evidently *outraged* about...


Um, when I've seen people use that expression, it's been in reference to things like bad service, littering, violent crime, etc. Are you honestly claiming that bad service, crime and littering are just examples of "lower-middle-class African American workers wanting to be treated with basic respect and human dignity"? *That* sounds like racism, to me.

Hillman said...

Didn't take long for this to get ugly.

First, Bens is ok at what it does. Not great. But not terrible either.

As for service in DC, it is in fact abysmal. All it takes is a quick trip to Philly or even Baltimore to see that.

And yes it is a sense of entitlement (or, more precisely, expectation). Service sector jobs in DC have a decades-long tradition of being jobs you could be surly and rude at, show up late or drunk for, etc.

Decades of that create an expectation that this sort of thing is acceptable.

I'm not suggesting all service folks in DC are this way. Absolutely not.

But many are.

And a full employment job market is a culprit here.

There are service industry jobs available for pretty much anyone that wants one in DC.

I happen to know several people in the restaurant business.

To a man they tell me they are constantly looking for decent staff. And constantly having to fire terrible staff.

It is not a race issue. It's an expectation issue.

Anonymous said...

When I wrote that comment I had a white waitress in mind. Projecting much?

Anonymous said...

WHINE! TIT FOR TAT!

Anonymous said...

MOMMY! HE'S LOOKING AT ME MEAN! SHE STARTED IT! ITS NOT MY FAULT! I DIDN'T DO IT! ITS NOT FAIR! WHAT ABOUT ME! WHAAAAAAAA!

Anonymous said...

i vote for a good bakery too. those half smokes are icky. ben's is revered for it's remarkable longevity, not it's product.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:18 -- "it's" = "it is". HTH.

Anonymous said...

For all those people that are calling for, and have been calling for a bakery on H St, please stop!

I would love a bakery also, don't get me wrong. However, do any of you have a clue as to how much daily volume a bakery needs to do in order to survive ? Unless they have a significant wholesale distribution component, they'll never survive on H.

Ask yourself a few questions:

1. When would the bakery open ? When you are at work probably. Sure, so you get there at 6pm after they've already been open for 8 - 10 hours. How have they been making money during those hours. Remember, it's not a cafe or coffee shop or restaurant.

2. What other revenue stream could this bakery have that would make it viable as a business on H St ? There's no way it would survive as a bakery only ?

3. Think about the retail bakeries that exist in DC. They're all (and there are not many for a reason i.e. Firehook, Hellers, Pauls, Patisserie Poupon come to mind) located in high density and high foot traffic areas. ALL OF THEM!!!

Sincerely,
Small Business Owner

John said...

I would love to see a bakery come in.

Annoyingmous said...

I'd love a bakery. I'd also love someone to knock on my door and hand me a bag with $100,000 of free money.

They're both about equally worth discussing.

inked said...

Small Business Owner,
I do agree for the most part. The foot traffic thing is totally true. I have noticed that Crunkcakes is now selling their product at Sova. I doubt that a stand alone bakery can make it over here right now (MAYBE if they have a food truck). But I do think that a co-op bakery could make it. That might night ever lead to a functional storefront bakery, but it could lead to a local co-op kitchen where bakers sell their wares at other local spots.

Anonymous said...

butcher!

AngryHound said...

1) For those of you complaining about a bakery, have any of you gone to the H Street Bakes events?

2) In terms of surly waitstaff/service industry folks - have you met the customers in DC establishments? Equally surly and "entitled" - as in treat servers with very little respect and expect to get whatever they want, regardless of whether it is even an option on the menu. I was a server for several years in DC (and elsewhere) and now am a typical DC federal employee . . .

3) Why do these threads always turn into gentrification debates? - why can't it just be - great, another established business is investing in our neighborhood - fantastic.

monkeyrotica said...

Fifty posts and nobody's said "at least it's better than a boarded up building?" You've failed me yet again, Starscream!

Anonymous said...

monkeyerotica: because we've all been waiting for you to arrive and regurgitate the "Ben's should collaborate with Spike Mendelsohn on a ______-themed eatery" meme.

Anonymous said...

Wow, 52 comments! This is almost as big as the great aldi debate of 2010! This seems bigger than the whordashian defense of marriage divorce. Thought i'ld chuck in my two cents while i rock the baby to sleep. I've heard some pretty reliable info about what ben's has planned and i'm happy about it. I love ben's. Always have. My dad took me there once to support them while they went throughmetro construction. Is it great? Probably not. Is the pug's new half smoke better? Yes, but let me repeat, i love the place. I'm sure all you immigrants from minnetucky have some greasy little joint you grew up with. I'm sure it's great and sucky all at the same time as well. Me, i'm gonna be happy that a small local business is continuing to thrive and expand, i'll do whatever i can to welcome them to h street, and i'm going to continue being as surly as possible to those customers who deserve it. It's often repeated here, but if you don't like it, don't go. I'm sure that 2nd tier bitch spike would love the $.. If you get a chance, look up jeff tweedy's comments about internet discouse, or stop by the pug and i'll tell you about it over some whisky. Baby's asleep now, elise, thanks as always,
Tony Surly T
The pug.

Dave B said...

Tony T,

Please tell me Ben's is planning a stuff your own sausage concept.

Anonymous said...

Ha, it's so difficult to discuss sausage seriously. I was told in confidence i think, so we'll wait.
Tonyt
The pug.

Hillman said...

They fail if they don't have a half smoke sandwich shaped like an H.

I'd tap that.

Hillman said...

Tony:

Just curious about your views on staffing in DC.

Are you overwhelmed with applicants? Do you pretty routinely have openings?

Anonymous said...

Hillman,
Staffing is the thing that keeps me awake at night. I think you mathew from the diner and i could write a pretty funny sitcom, or at least hold an interesting panel discussion on staffing issues. I get the occasional applicant, which is not to be confused with the person who says dude lemme bartend for you. My staff is small and excellent so i don't have much turnover. I could spend a lot of time discussing the sense of entitlement that i've experienced from employees and customers, and unfortunately for many ft readers it cuts across all racial, economic and geographic lines. Maybe it's unique to dc, i don't know. There is a shortage of good service industry folks. At a previois place i fired a guy, and he was my server the next night at austin grill.
Tony T

wylie coyote said...

Ben's and my stomach don't get along, but I won't deny anyone else their fun.

H&D has been accused of dumping oil in the alley, but I personally think they just re-use the same oil over and over.

Anonymous said...

need more info on h street bakes

hitting google for now, but welcome more info here

HStreetDC said...

Inked,
There is a bakery operation such as you describe that started just off H Street - Curbside Cupcakes - that has been very successful. They now have three trucks selling their wares which are baked in a commercial kitchen to comply with DC Board of Health regulations. But no storefront bakery for the reasons that Small Business Owner cites.

There is little BoH-inspected co-op or rental kitchen space available in DC. There are more facilities in VA. Most food trucks and vendors rent space by the hour, often in churches or other kitchens that have commercial zoning. The going rate for rental space averages about $65/hr with a usual minimum of 4 hours or so. It can be as high as $100/hr. It's expensive because of the real estate costs, taxes, fees, regulations, licensing, equipment, utilities, staff costs (certified kitchen manager), insurance, etc.
It's not cost-effective for such co-op space to locate in the relatively expensive H Street market. There is other commercially-zoned space with lower rents.

Small scale bakers such as those who sell at H Street Bakes would have to develop significant wholesale client lists to launch businesses that would work financially if they were to rent BoH-certified commercial kitchen space. It's hard to acquire clients if you don't already have kitchen space. Chicken and egg. A baker would likely have to be prepared to lose money until they could get established. Most businesses do plan on at least a year or more before they break even, and more than that before making a profit.

inked said...

HStreetDC,
I should have clarified that I didn't necessarily mean space on H Street (which is going to be too expensive). I was thinking more Bladensburg Road, or Benning Road (or maybe even that block in the middle of Montello). I do agree that even then it's very difficult and you would really need to maximize your kitchen use.

I was partly thinking of Curbside cupcakes when I wrote that last night.

Anonymous said...

Angry hound- it doesn't matter how surly the customer is. It's the servers job to do just that....serve. And to do it with a friendly attitude and smile.

oboe said...

unfortunately for many ft readers it cuts across all racial, economic and geographic lines

Awesome goodness. :)

Anonymous said...

Ha, oboe, look one comment before yours. Um, 8:02 it's always been my rule to speak to and treat my customers the same way they speak to and treat me or my employees. I do my best to discourage surly cutomers from staying or returning. On more than one occasion, i've asked a patron to leave for being rude to my people. And during these trying economic times that will continue to be my practice. If you're having a bad day, take that shit out on your spouse or go to the gym. If you've spent all day post snarky, rude comments on the internet all day, learn some civility when you turn your computer off. Server and punching bag are two totally different things, and i'm smiling as i type this.
Tony Civil T
The Pug

Anonymous said...

Whatever tony. You're just a bartender. Shut up and bring me a beer wench.

curmudgeon said...

You want Tony to bring you a beer wench? I don't think they have those at the Pug.

Anonymous said...

I'm putting this baby down, going to work and making a beer wench. They will be free to anyone who can tell me how to keep dc united.

Nick said...

Ben's...wow its been too long since I've been to DC! If they want to franchise a Ben's Chili Bowl in San Diego, CA I'd be in favor! Great blog by the way...keep it up.