Saturday, March 22, 2008
My Conversation With Nizam Ali--Ben's Chili Bowl
For the first time in it's nearly 50 Year History--Ben's Chili Bowl is branching out. Beginning on March 29th at New Nationals Park--Baseball Fans visiting the new South Capitol Street Ballpark will be able to enjoy the full menu from one of Washington DC's Most Famous Restaurants. During yesterday's Press Conference to announce Ben's Partnership with Our Washington Nationals--Nizam Ali (Ben's Co-Owner) and I discussed the details of his new venture.
With that--here we go.
There is no question that Ben’s Chili Bowl is a very popular place. A Washington Institution. (“Thank You”—Ali). Why did you decide to partner with The Nationals on this project? (SBF)
“We have been asked to go (Franchise) in many places in the past. This is the one time they (The Nationals) approached us, very seriously: ‘We really want you in there.’ And, they really cared about getting us in there (New Nationals Park). They made it happen. I couldn’t be happier. Everyone else that has asked us before, said: ‘Hey, we want to have you.’ But then offer a terrible deal, or they want to situate us way in the back—a deal that doesn’t make sense to go."
(At New Nationals Park—Ben’s Chili Bowl's Main Stand will be located on the Main Concourse behind Section 110, down the left field line. In fact, Our Washington Nationals handed me the complete details of where each and every Vendor, Concession and Team Store will be located at New Nationals Park. That information coming over the weekend.)
So, Centerplate and The Nationals are working with you—instead of using you? (SBF)
“Absolutely, absolutely. We are partners and everyone is making it work for everyone involved.”
Then this is a First for Ben’s Chili Bowl? (SBF)
“Yes, yes it is. It’s very exciting. This coming August is Our 50th Year. We will be celebrating Our 50th Anniversary. So, its just terrific that all these things are culminating together. Honestly, it’s all very special.”
Was having a position at Nationals Park something you thought about before they (The Nationals) approached you? (SBF)
“We (Ben’s Chili Bowl) had thought about it. Of course, every business thinks about how to grow in a respectful and proper way; the respectful way to pay tribute to the legacy. If it was all about money—we would have franchised out about five years ago. But, that is not the point. It’s about family, the legacy, trying to do things the right way. So, this was an opportunity that came forth that we thought would be a good move.--a logical step in the progression that does not open the floodgates. We don’t want someone running one hundred of our places around the country. We can still maintain control. We can still maintain our image. It (The Ballpark) is close by and fans will really appreciate it.”
But at least this new outlet might allow those that enjoy your food to receive it in a different atmosphere? (SBF)
“We kind of feel bad. We love our one place. Our Historic Place. But, you kind of feel bad that people have to drive for so long to get here. People who really love us and have moved out of town—hopefully the concession at the stadium will give those folks another option to enjoy all we offer.”
When Centerplate first announced they were taking The Nationals Park Contract—I can’t tell you the number of fans who, immediately, wanted to see your service at the park. (SBF)
‘Terrific—that helps too. That’s why having a place at the ballpark is so important. The Fans and Our Loyal Customers have always been fighting for us—supporting us for so long. We would have NEVER been here 50 years without them. And, we wouldn’t have been in the ballpark without them—either.”
As a business owner—you have got to be stunned about the amount of business you receive—with very little outward advertising? (SBF)
“Yes, it is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!! It makes me feel really good that people feel this way about us. People have this ‘Ownership’ about this place. That’s special. I can’t call it mine or my family’s. I have to call it a part of the community. Ben’s belongs to Washington. It belongs to everybody and everyone plays a part in making this place what it is—A Community Treasure.”
“Everyone helps spread the word and that means so much to all of us.”
I bet it doesn’t hurt that Russell Crowe was pictured outside your door—shooting a movie here yesterday, either? (SBF)
(Both of us laughing) “Yes, Russell Crowe help spread the word also. It has been One Heck Of A Week!! You know—sometimes things just line up correctly. It’s true—this has been One Heck Of A Week!! We are just overwhelmed by the support—overjoyed actually.”
At Nationals Park—how will your setup work? (SBF)
“There will be one setup (Behind Section 110). One Stand with the name—Ben’s Chili Bowl on it. But, because The Half Smoke is DC’s thing—They (The Nationals and Centerplate) will sell The Half Smoke around the stadium---with our chili on top.”
Very nice. (SBF)
“Yes, it really is.”
You going to be there Opening Night? (SBF)
“I will be there with Bells On!! (Chuckling) Maybe not actual bells—but figuratively speaking. (both of us busting out laughing).”
“This is a good move for you? (SBF)
“It’s a good move. We maintain control and the tradition. One year from now—we will check down the road to see how things go and evaluate. But, this is going to be a great move for us. Also, I believe this (partnership) is a great move for The Nationals and The Lerner’s too. For them to partner up like this—I know they really care about bringing local experience and flavor to the stadium. That’s important. You don’t get that everywhere. Teams that do bring in that local element realize it means so much to fans. Just think of the pride a city has toward it’s team. Each city has it's icons and foods and restaurants. This opportunity melds all that together.”
As we finished our discussion--DC Mayor Adrian Fenty chimed in as he was heading out the door:
What does Ben’s Chili Bowl being at New Nationals Park mean for you and The City? (SBF)
“This is hugely important. DC Businesses are fantastic and we should celebrate them in every opportunity. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate and recognize, and partner, with a DC Business than having Ben’s be at Our Stadium. And I can’t think of a better business to start with than Ben’s Chili Bowl.”
Are there other businesses you would like to see at Nationals Park? (SBF)
“I would like to see as many DC Businesses as humanly possible at Nationals Park and everywhere else in the stadium!! (Both of us chuckling) By the why—I still love that iPod recorder. I need to get one!! I got to run, good seeing you again.”
And off Mayor Fenty went.
Having Ben's Chili Bowl at New Nationals Park--along with Gifford's Ice Cream and Candy Company are fine starts to giving our new ballpark that local flavor--so many crave.