Trouble for Ben’s Chili Bowl Coming to H Street?

by Prince Of Petworth October 23, 2013 at 1:15 pm 28 Comments

10th and H Street, NE

On Monday we noted that the building that was to have been the future home a Ben’s Chili Bowl had been torn down. Today @codykrice tweets:

“Per [ANC] 6A chair, ZA says Ben’s Chili on #HStNE razed bldg w/o permit, approved plans depended on incentives for preserving facade.

May take a while to sort out. New construction would have different reqs than adaptive reuse or facade preservation.”

  • Anonymous


  • No surprise there. Really amateurish though. Did they think nobody would notice a building suddenly disappeared?

    • Hill Hound

      I don’t think they were trying to hide it. The community listserv initially reported that the concept had received some sort of tacit approval from DCRA. It sounds like there was a disconnect between the owners and DCRA. The loss of FAR will cost the project money and no sound business person leaves money on the table. What I don’t understand is how the demolition occurred without anyone from DCRA being aware. On a typical project, rather rehab or repair, inspectors pop up to check the progress.

      • Annonny

        Yes, DCRA inspectors do show up and in my experience have been known to solicit/take bribes. Wouldn’t surprise me if somebody was paid to look the other way. How any legitimate demolition/construction company would proceed without permits is beyond me, however.

        • NoSleepTillBrookland

          Have that going on right now on my property line. DCRA inspectors showing up agreeing things are wrong then doing nothing about. Gone as far as them denying a stop work order was posted. We have photos of the stop work order with the guys signature and he still refuses there was one.

          DCRA is a joke, and if anyone has had any success fighting as a homeowner/tax payer vs. a builder/developer I’d love to hear it.

          I’d make Ben’s but everything back brick by brick. Terrible

          • washingtonian

            The key to getting attention to matters like that in DC are complaining to multiple parties at once: the ANC, the staff people who work with your City Councilperson, etc. Takes a bit of legwork at the outset to get all the contact emails, but cc em all…attach photo evidence to your email and it will get taken care of….

          • annonny

            My building was wrapping up a large, lengthy, and complex project and a DCRA inspector slapped us with a “stop work” order and informed us we needed “additional permits” that conveniently cost $10,000. It took several months of dealing with these jokers and refusing to pay their bribes before we gave up and contacted our councilmember and the Mayor’s office. Stop work order was lifted in a day; unfortunately nobody from DCRA was fired.

  • Thunder

    I love Bens Chili bowl, but I’m really disappointed with them about this. I’m surprised also that they haven’t tried to explain to the H Street neighborhood what happened. Maybe they should just stay in NW, if this is an example of the kind of neighbor that they are going to be.

  • We’ll See

    It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. We may get to see just how connected Ben’s is to the DC power structure. Or not.

  • Brightwood

    I almost posted to the first update to note that I was surprised they were permitted to raise the entire structure. I really hope they didn’t screw themselves over. Or, more likely, that the city didn’t screw them over.

  • DCDude

    For a company that takes pride in their place in DC History it saddens me that they razed the building. I love their chili fires but I am very saddened by this and will stay home and make my own chili from now on.

    • Anonymous

      That was my thought too ( the first sentence).

      • Anonymous

        The 2nd generation always put profits over pride. Same old story with every successful family that inherits a business from a patriarch/matriarch.

  • Lady Frederick Windsor (aka Sophie Winkleman)

    I don’t understand the concept of new Ben’s locations. People go for the nostalgia of the U Street location, not the mediocre food.

    • Anonymous

      Well, it’s not like other mediocre food places never get business.

    • Anonymous

      i’m betting a ben’s on h would do fine.

    • To be frank, the concept is to make money. They know people will get drunk and buy it, regardless of notoriety.

      • X-Man

        I think you’re confusing Ben’s with Red Apron. Don’t be frank, be chili!


  • Anonymous

    they will get away with it and they know it.

  • X

    I don’t understand why they had a deal to keep the facade up in the first place. I understand George’s had been around a long time, but the facade wasn’t anything special.

    • wylie coyote

      A deal is a deal.

      Kind of disturbing if they did agree to keep the facade, then razed the building. That sort of duplicity is ridiculous. Why agree at all? So unethical…

    • Presumably because the top portion at least had a rowhouse appearance to it that was similar to the surrounding neighborhood. Get rid of that and you can built any tacky old box you want.

  • ShawGuy

    I kinda think if you raze a historic building without a permit that should mean you automatically forfeit deed and ownership of the land to the District so that you cannot profit from your actions. There was a project not far from me that went to HPRB to get a raze permit, was denied, and then just sent a crew out and razed the building anyway. They paid something stupid, like a $5,000 fine, and made almost a million bucks putting up the new building in it’s place. I guarantee they sat there outside the HPRB hearing, figured out the max fine, and looked at the profit from keeping the building and the profit from razing and paying the fine, and figured out the better option for them. If they’d known they would have lost the lot altogether (and 100% of the profits from the project), that historic building would still be there. Same thing with Ben’s – if you know that razing without permission means you lose the whole damned thing, you’re going to make sure you actually have permits.

    • Lisa

      I completely agree with you on their reasoning and who can blame them- they’re almost encouraged to if it’s just a slap on the wrist punishment. I’m not with you on the instituting the penalty of forfeiture, but there sure needs to be some deterrent. Right now 1128 9th ripped down and rebuilt the entire bay storefront on a zoned historic building before a stop-work was issues and it only cost them $2000 fine.

  • h st ll

    1) I like Ben’s food and they will do crazy business on H.

    2) I too was shocked when I saw they pulled down the entire building. I love pop-ups, but I thought this was a good facade and no reason they couldn’t keep and still build a 50 ft building there. I thought there was some basic historical protections on H itself as well?

  • Trouble for Ben’s Chili Bowl Coming to H Street? | PoPville

  • Anonymous

    They received an FAR bonus for facade preservation. The new proposed facade looks nothing like the original and is really ugly. Regardless of what it looks like though, they should not be entitled to the FAR bonus.

    They should also be fined for razing a building with no permit. Once one party does it and others see no negative repercussion, others start doing it too. Case in point: 513 C St NE which is permitted as a renovation but is now a big hole in the ground.

    Bens on H is also attempting to have an outdoor sidewalk cafe in public space with no operating hour restrictions. If the city allows the request, it will create a precedent for all other establishments to do the same. I believe that is the actual rationale why many establishments are attempting to cancel their “voluntary” agreements with the ANC.

    • Jonathan Neeley

      Hello all,

      I’m a reporter working on a story about this for the Hill Rag. If you’re interested in giving me your citizen’s perspective, please shoot me an email ASAP. Neeley87 (at) gmail (dot) com.


Subscribe to our mailing list