Ben's Chili Bowl theGrio.com
Ben's Chili Bowl, located at 1213 U Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C. Date 5 January 2010 (Wikimedia Commons)

Ben’s Chili Bowl fed protesters during the Civil Rights Movement. The legendary landmark hung in there when D.C. was ablaze during the 1968 riots after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

But owners say they haven’t seen anything like the novel coronavirus outbreak and now find themselves fighting to keep their restaurant from folding.

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“It’s a struggle. It’s a serious struggle,” Virginia Ali, 86, co-founder of the storied restaurant told WUSA 9. “To have experience(d) the Civil Rights Movement and the riots. After that we had the construction of the green line which took away the entire street… but there was no doubt we would open again.”

DMV state and local officials have ordered residents to stay at home, only going out for essential purposes. This leaves restaurants now to fill carry-out and delivery orders. The sharp decline in foot traffic has virtually halted much of their business.

Ben’s Chili Bowl, historic restaurant DC, Date 8 March 2020 (Wikimedia Commons Kurt Kaiser)

“We had to close every restaurant except U Street,” added Vida Ali, Virginia’s daughter, to the WUSA 9 reporter. “So loss is 100 percent at every restaurant. What we found in just trying to keep U-Street open and trying to keep team members employed, we’re keeping it open at a loss.”

“We really don’t know what to do. No one has seen anything like this before,” she added. “We’re known as an integral part of D.C, an institution… but what does that mean for tomorrow?”

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Other restaurants certainly feel their pain, according to a survey released by the National Restaurant Association which found that three percent of all restaurants in the United States will be forced to close due to the economic impact of the coronavirus. That number will grow by another 11 percent if the shutdown continues until the end of April.

Vida Ali declined to say how close they are to potentially shutting down the U Street landmark but said they are looking forward to the future when all of this is behind them, WUSA 9 reported.