Chili's is an American fast food chain that has become one of the largest competitors in the casual dining chain niche. They're best known for their Southwestern fare and reasonable prices. Whether you're a frequent diner or you haven't yet tried their mouth watering menu items, here are 20 things that you probably didn't know about Chili's.
1. The restaurant was started over a chili cook-off
A chili cook-off was held in 1967 in Terlingua, Texas. There was a young entrepreneur who attended the event. His name was Larry Lavine. He was so impressed with all of the unique and interesting types of chili that it gave him an idea. He gained the inspiration from the cook-off to create his own chili recipe. It took him a few years, but by 1975, he had perfected his recipe and he opened his very first Chili's restaurant in Dallas, Texas.
2. The new Chile's focused on two menu items
The very first Chili's restaurant kept their menu very simple. They maintained their focus upon just two menu items. These were chili and burgers. The restaurant was set up in a Southwestern decor that matched the type of food that was offered and it was a big hit. There was no other restaurant in the area that was quite like Chili's and customers flocked to order their awesome burgers and delicious chili. It achieved success quickly.
3. The second Chili's opened a year later
It is very rare for a new restaurant to become so popular that they have the resources to open a second location within a single year. This was the case for Chili's. Their second location was opened in 1976 in Houston, Texas. This turned out to be a brilliant move because the second restaurant became just as popular with the Houston crowd and the original eatery in Dallas.
4. Growth was exponential n the first 8 years
The initial success of the Chili's restaurant was no fluke. It continued to gain in popularity with the locals. Soon after opening the second location, it became apparent that there was a demand for even more of them. By 1983, which was just 8 years after the first restaurant opened, there were a total of 18 Chili's restaurants in operation and the new chain was enjoying some impressive success.
5. Chili's was bought by Norman Brinker
Norman Brinker is a legend in the fast food chain industry. He couldn't help but notice that Chili's was an up and coming chain with some tremendous potential to hit the big time. He contacted Lavine and made arrangements to purchase the chain. This is the first time that Chili's traded hands. The sale was made in 1983.
6. Brinker changed the menu
There were a lot of changes made to Chili's after Brinker took over its ownership. One of the first things that he did was to extend the menu. He added Buffalo wings, chicken sandwiches, salads, fajitas and other items. This was a good move on his part because the business experienced another surge of growth. Brinker had named his company Brinker International and to this day they are the owners of the Chili's restaurant chain.
7. The very first Chili's is a 7-Eleven
We'd like to be able to report that the first Chili's ever built was still a monument to the company, but that isn't the case. The first Chili's began in a building that had been converted from a post office. The original Chili's was moved to a new location and in its place there now sits a 7-Eleven convenience store. It's okay though because Chili's was able to move to a different area where they get plenty of steady business, so no harm was done.
8. The first menu would surprise you
Here is a fun and little known fact about the first menu that Chili's put into operation. It was so tiny that it barely gave customers any choices. The first Chili's customers didn't seem to be put off by the fact that they could only order a few kinds of chili, six choices of burgers, tacos, fries and a choice of three different drinks. The original menu was kept like this from 1975 through 1978, but it has grown a lot since that time in its history.
9. Chili's celebrated the life of its jingle singer uniquely
When Mr. McCoy, the singer of the famous Chili's jungle passed away, he had established a legacy. The 2013 funeral was like none other witnessed. It was actually barbecue themed. The pallbearers were all sporting chef's attire and as they carried Mr. McCoy's casket, they sang the famous jingle that he was so well-known for. The casket was crafted to resemble a smoker and a group of dancers carried in fake baby back ribs. There were live pigs at the funeral and there was even a fountain that delivered barbecue sauce. It was featured on the TLC channel's "Best Funeral Ever"reality television show.
10. The first Chili's workers had a unique nickname
Here is an interesting fact that dates back to the mid 1970s when Chili's was first established as a restaurant. Considering the fact that the hair and clothing styles were a lot different back then, the first employees generally had longer hair, beards and dressed like Hippies. This is how the first Chili's employees came to be called "Hamburger Hippies." It was a funny name that stuck until the styles changed in the 1980s. The practice stopped when they cut their hair and trimmed their beards.
11. Chili's went international
The Chili's restaurant chain which had become so successful in the United States also expanded into Europe. In fact, their first location was opened in 2004. Chili's offered their Southwestern fare to the man and women who were stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.
12. Chili's cares about their employees and they show it
Chili's is one of those special companies that takes an active interest in the well-being of their employees. They've established a special fund that is designated to be used to assist their employees who have had to deal with personal tragedy in their lives. It's called the Brinker Family Fund and the fund provides $1 million each year to be used to assist employees who had suffered through natural disasters, death or serious illness either personally or in their immediate family. The funding for this special help is donated by Chili's employees who voluntarily have donations deducted from their paychecks.
13. The recipe for their Chili has never changed
When you order a bowl of Chili at any Chili's restaurant, you're eating the same recipe that the company started out with in the 1970s. There have been a few minor tweaks, but it's essential the very same recipe. In case you're wondering about the ingredients, the Terlingua Chili contains onions, jalapenos, poblanos and beef with a few things that are not being disclosed.
14. Brinker was a Pillsbury Exec
Here's a little known fact that we found interesting. The owner of Chili's, Norman Brinker worked for the Pillsbury Corporation as an executive in their leadership team. Pillsbury had commissioned Brinker with turning the Burger King fast food chain around. It was after this that he had made the decision to purchase Chili's and do the same thing with it that he had with the Burger King franchise. It was because of the significant contributions that Mr. Brinker had made both to Chili's and to Burger King that he became known by the title, "the Father of Casual Dining." He was top notch in streamlining restaurant designs and the internal processes for increased efficiency. He also had a knack for menu expansion that seemed to hit the mark when it came to customer satisfaction, with consistency.
15. Brinker International support's St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital
This is an interesting fact about Chili's that not many people are aware of. They are generous supporters of the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. They began making donations to the center in 2006. The Chili's corporation pledged a 10 year commitment with an agreement to provide the hospital with $50 million. Within the last year, Brinker International had raised over $58 million to become the first do make a donation of this high amount. This was the largest donation of its kind ever made to the hospital. The upcoming fundraising initiative involves a $30 million pledge for the enhancement of the St. Jude School Program which is geared towards their patients.
16. The workers had problems with the introduction of fajitas
In the history of Chili's restaurants, all of their menu items excluding the chili came in a basket. This was a fast and easy way to serve the meals. When fajitas were first introduced in 1984, it changed a lot of things in the kitchen environment. The restaurant restructured the kitchen equipment to include skillets and tortilla warmers which were necessary for preparing the new menu item. We learned that employees staged quite an uproar over the changes.
17. Chili's was the first sit down restaurant on an Air Force Base
This is another interesting and little known facts about Chili's. When they opened their restaurant on the Kadena Air Base which is located in Okinawa, Japan in 2003, they were the very first sit down restaurant chain on an AFB. This was also Japan's first ever Chili's restaurant.
18. The famous jingle wasn't introduced until 1986
We would be remiss if we didn't include interesting facts about Chili's world famous jingle. Even if you haven't eaten at a Chili's you've probably heard the "Baby Back Ribs" jingle. The name of the original song is "Chili's (Welcome to Chili's!)" The song was the product of songwriter Guy Bommarito. He was working for an Austin, Texas advertising agency at the time. The song was sang by Tom Faulkner for the first edition. It was after this that Willie McCoy, from New York came on board to sing the low notes of "Barbecue sauce." The newest version made its debut in 1996. While learning this new information about Chili's we also discovered that the guy who wrote the jingle to begin with has never in his life eaten Chili's ribs. You would think that he'd at least be curious about them.
19. Austin Powers gave Chili's an extra boost
If you remember the comedy film "Austin Powers," staring Mike Myers, the installment of "The Spy Who Shagged Me" had a famous line that referred directly to the Chili's jingle. In one of the more memorable moments of the film, the character Fat Bastard was singing the "baby back ribs" jingle. Even though it was a short and small reference to the chain, it had a tremendous boosting effect. The film was a popular blockbuster hit and it gave Chili's some great free advertisement that went international. Even though the character was kind of gross and it was difficult to watch him eat, he certainly made the baby back ribs sound appetizing. It served as a great reminder that you can pick up baby back ribs at Chili's anytime you want.
20. N' Sync endorsed Chili's
Here's another fun fact that we discovered. The popular boy band 'N Sync was featured in a Chili's television commercial in 2002. They were one of the most successful groups of their era with amazing vocals and quite the following of fans. Their endorsement of Chili's gave the chain yet another great boost in the eyes of the public. What was even better is that they didn't make just one commercial. They actually appeared in three separate Chili's commercials. Of course, the group was enough to capture the attention of a lot of viewers who otherwise ignore television commercials. This was a brilliant idea on the part of Chili's advertising and marketing staff. Engaging celebrities to endorse your products is always a great idea. Particularly when they have a fan base that doesn't seem to go away over a period of decades.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson