... The More They Stay the Same:
The damage of the riots exceeded far beyond the ruined landscape. Within in confines of the segregated city, U Street had served as the place where African American culture could thrive. The memory of that turbulent time stuck with the residents and when desegregation laws were enacted, many families took the opportunity to leave.
As the 1970s progressed drug pushers and users began to replace the young, vibrant and dressed-to-impress crowd that had brought life and energy into the U Street Corridor. By the end of the '70s, U Street was almost unrecognizable.
During this bleak time, an old patron returned to bring Ben's into national prominence. Bill Cosby had frequented Ben's during his day as a young Naval officer, and found comfort in knowing that no matter what, he could always return to order the same meal. In 1985, Cosby held a press conference at Ben's to celebrate the huge success of <b>The Cosby Show</b>. The conference shone a spotlight on a business whose community presence and work ethic mirrored the show's family-centered values.
The attention from Bill Cosby's press conference translated to increased business for Ben's Chili Bowl, but the 1987 construction of the Metro U Street/Cardozo station would have a severe negative impact on business. While the long-term promise of a Metro station on U Street was more business, the immediate results were devastating. A lack of revenue forced Ben's to reduce their hours of operation and release all but two staff: Virginia and longtime employee Peaches Halton. From 1987 to 1991, the construction severely crippled the businesses that ran along U Street. For these four years the deeply devoted -- and loyal -- customers often parked their cars and navigated through a narrow alley entrance to get to the restaurant's side entrance.