The well-known District restaurant has faced its share of imitations over the years. Longtime U Street patrons may recall a chili restaurant mimicking Ben’s that operated a few blocks west, from a storefront in the Reeves Center building facing 14th Street. At one point there was also a “Ken’s Chili Bowl” on Kennedy Street NW.
Now a former Ben’s employee, Anthony Holmon, is talking about opening a competing chili restaurant and he has launched a furious Twitter campaign using the name @dchilibowl to promote it.
Holmon says he worked at food service operations before going out on his own in November 2010 and opening Princtons Place Soul Food Restaurant, in Clinton. That closed after less than a year, at which point he got a job working at Ben’s Chili Bowl — authorized vendors in Nationals Park and FedEx Field, before working a stint as a manager at Ben’s itself.
On Feb. 4, Holmon began Tweeting, issuing more than 350 messages over the next 10 days. In part by using references to Ben’s Chili Bowl founder Ben Ali, he attracted 331 followers as of Tuesday morning. Holmon links to www.dcchilibowl.com, but the site isn’t active.
Despite the name similarity, Holmon says he will open a restaurant that will be different than Ben’s, possibly on Bladensburg Road NE.
“It will still be with the half-smoke, turkey dog, hot dog, beef dog and we’ll have tons of chili, but it will be more so, more than just chili...I’m considering putting whiting or tilapia on the menu,” he said.
Holmon said that he doesn’t have any hard feelings for Kamal and Nizam Ali, the brothers who now run Ben’s Chili Bowl. “It’s not necessarily a thing with them. No one has a patent on half smokes or hot dogs,” he said.
Kamal Ali said he isn’t worried. He had heard of the @dchilibowl Twitter account and chalked it up to an effort by Holmon to generate enough buzz to improve his fortunes. “I have no idea what his intentions are,” Ali said.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: oconnellpostbiz