Ben’s Chilli Bowl Struggles To Stay Afloat After COVID-19 Outbreak

Ben’s Chilli Bowl Struggles To Stay Afloat After COVID-19 Outbreak

The 60-year-old community staple is waiting for a federal loan to stay open

Published April 22nd

Written by Madison J. Gray

One of the staples of the Washington D.C restaurant community now finds itself struggling to survive because of coronavirus.

“The COVID-19 hit us hard, we’ve had to consolidate, we’re just working out of here for carry out and delivery,” Sage Ali, owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl told local station WJLA. “We applied for the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan and unfortunately, it did not get through yet.”

Ali’s parents, Ben and Virginia, opened the U Street corridor diner in 1958 and it is one of the few that have remained standing through the Civil Rights movement, the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, the economic downturns of the 70s and 80s, and the socio-economic changes around the Cordozo/Shaw districts.

RELATED: Ben Ali, Founder of DC's Ben's Chili Bowl, Dies

Ali said the restaurant was anticipating a good year, but when COVID-19 began to sweep through the country, forcing restaurants, theaters and other social gathering places to either shut their doors or stop their dining room service. 

Ben’s opted for the latter.

“We were looking to really have our best year yet,” Ali said. “And all of a sudden this hit and it just took in a very very different direction.”

What is hurting the business most is the wait for the PPP loan, which for many small businesses is turning out to be a lifeline from the federal government. The program, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, authorized $349 billion in forgivable loans to the businesses to help them make payroll or pay rent, utility costs or mortgage interest.

But Ben’s did not get any of the funding when it was doled out to small businesses. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser said lawmakers have told her because the District was classified as a territory and not a state in the first round of federal aid, it caused D.C. businesses like Ben’s to be bypassed, but said that would be fixed in new legislation.

“I am assured by the Congress that they want to get it done in the fourth CARES package,” Bowser said, according to WTOP. “What they’re working on this week could have a technical amendment that addresses the District, and I hope that leaders in the House and the Senate, as well as the White House, can make those technical adjustments.

Congress added more $484 billion more in funding to the program, which Ali hopes will keep his family business going. “We’re very thankful for that and hopefully, we’ll be fine and we’re planning on being fine,” he said.

Photo Credit: LUKE FRAZZA/AFP via Getty Images

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