Who Knew? Empress Chili holds the crown for the first chili parlor in the Queen City

CINCINNATI - The Tri-State is home to many fascinating facts, offbeat oddities, and "I did not know that," moments. With that in mind, WCPO asks "Who Knew?"

  • What is it? Cincinnati's first chili parlor
  • Where can I taste it? 3670 Werk Road, Bridgetown
  • Who knew? Dan Woellert, Author

If one food continues to define our city, it’s Cincinnati chili. Most often, we think of Skyline as being our flagship chili parlor. Did you know the first three-way created in the Queen City was built in a small mom & pop restaurant that is still serving from its location on the West Side?

For more, we consulted Dann Woellert, who wrote the book on our Queen City delicacy. Here's a blurb from the Amazon listing for  "The Authentic History of Cincinnati Chili."

"Cincinnati is certainly judged by its chili. Some claim it's not even chili, but those are just fighting words to natives who have developed the crave. Cincinnati is a long way from El Paso, and our chili is not Tex-Mex style. It is a unique blend typically served as a three-way: over spaghetti and covered in shredded cheddar cheese. From its 1922 roots with the Slavic-Macedonian immigrant brothers Kiradjieff in a burlesque theater, Cincinnati chili has become a million-dollar industry supporting 250 chili parlors. "

Q&A with Dann Woellert

1. When did the first chili parlor open in Cincinnati?

The original Empress Chili  parlor opened in downtown Cincinnati in 1922. Skyline opened nearly 30 years later in 1949. (Gold Star opened in 1965)

2. How did Empress get started?

A family friend who was a grocer helped get the Kiradjief family set up with equipment and ingredients for their first restaurant located downtown.

3. How many restaurants did Empress have at its peak?

At one time, there were 12, in places such as Mount Lookout, New Richmond, Western Hills, Norwood, and several downtown.

4. How many chili parlors are now in Cincinnati?

Over 250 chili restaurants exist in Cincinnati, which has created a $200 million industry.

5. Where is the highest concentration of chili parlours in the tri-state?

You can't roll down your window on the West Side and not smell chili wafting through the air. There's a six-mile stretch of Glenway Avenue where there's a chili parlor every mile. Within the 275 loop, you're never further than three miles away from a chili restaurant.

Hungry for more chili?

Connect with WCPO Contributor Paige E. Malott on Twitter: @Paigetastic01 , and check out her blog CincyWhimsy.com

Check back next Tuesday for another edition of "Who Knew?" If you have an tip, idea or question email: holly.edgell@wcpo.com.

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