You might not realize it, but when Chili’s first opened for business, it was considered revolutionary. Today it’s one of America’s most popular casual dining chains, but we bet there’s a lot you didn’t realize about the restaurant that gave us one of the catchiest jingles in history.
The original location, on the corner of Greenville Avenue and Meadow Road in Dallas, was in a converted post office. It’s since been town down, and the address is now the site of a 7-Eleven.
They trimmed their beards and got haircuts by the time the ‘80s got going.
23 locations in six states had opened by 1983, when an executive at the Pillsbury Corporation who’d previously been tasked with turning around Burger King decided to strike out on his own and purchased the Chili’s chain from founder Larry Lavine. He added new menu items, updated and streamlined the design, and took the company into the ‘80s. Today he’s hailed as the “Father of Casual Dining.”
Quite possibly the most legendary casual dining chain jingle of all time, "Chili's (Welcome to Chili's!)" (yes, that’s the actual name of the song) was written by Guy Bommarito for an Austin ad agency called GSD&M. Producer Tom Faulkner sang the melodic theme (“I want my baby back, baby back…”), a New York singer named Willie McCoy was brought in to hit the low note (“Barbecue sauce”), and they were backed up by an a cappella doo-wop quartet. A new version debuted in 1996 on the teen-friendly WB (now the CW Network), introducing it to a new audience. Ironically, Bommarito has never eaten Chili’s ribs.
When McCoy passed away in 2013, his legacy preceded him. His pallbearers were dressed as chefs and sang the jingle as they carried the casket, the casket itself was designed to look like a smoker, fake baby back ribs were carried in by dancers, a barbecue sauce fountain was installed, and live pigs were even present. The funeral was televised on a short-lived TLC reality show called Best Funeral Ever.
Remember in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, when Mike Myers’ character Fat Bastard sang the “baby back ribs” jingle? It’s one of the movie’s more memorable moments (which isn’t saying much, sadly), but the product placement served as great advertising for the chain.
In 2003, a location opened on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. It was also Chili’s first Japanese location.
It opened in 2004.
In 2006, Chili’s made a 10-year, $50 million commitment to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. It wrapped up last year with more than $58 million raised, the largest corporate donation to the hospital in history. Soon after, Chili’s launched its next fundraising initiative, a six-year, $30 million commitment to enhance the work of the St. Jude School Program for patients.
Kelli Valade has been the president of Chili’s for the past year; she’s been with the company for 29 years and was most recently the company’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.
The Brinker Family Fund was created to help employees dealing with serious illness, death, and natural disasters. It’s primarily funded by other employees taking voluntary paycheck deductions, and about $1 million is distributed annually to employees who need it most.
If you order a bowl or cup of Terlingua Chili, made with beef, poblanos, jalapeños, and onions, you’ll receive the original-recipe chili created by Larry Lavine back in the early 1970s; the recipe has only received minor tweaks since then.