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Virginia Ali

Although she’s seen a lot of change along U Street NW, Ben’s Chili Bowl matriarch Virginia Ali isn’t so different from many of her new neighbors in the neighborhood her family restaurant has called home for 60 years.

Virginia, who grew up on a farm in rural Virginia, moved to D.C. searching for a job in the big city, just like the young people swarming U Street today and stumbling into Ben’s for a half-smoke at 3 a.m. Like many of them, she also went to work for one of D.C.’s heralded institutions — in her case, as a teller at Industrial Bank, the first African-American-owned bank in the District.

The bank is where she met Ben Ali, the man who became her husband and lifelong business partner. Ben wanted to be his own boss, and the restaurant business was one he knew well.

“We didn’t want to do full-service, and there were lots of hamburger places in town, so we thought, ‘Let’s do hot dogs,’” she says during an interview in the back room of the original Ben’s…

Read the full story from the Washington Business Journal.



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