Families unite Cincinnati chili dynasties

Posted at 7:04 PM, Feb 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-14 19:22:29-05

CINCINNATI -- The story of Cincinnati chili isn't just about the love between a city and its homegrown food. It's about the love between the families who run some of the longtime chili parlors. 

It's no secret that Cincinnati chili's roots go back to Empress Chili, which opened in 1922. The restaurant was founded by brothers "Tom" and "John" Kiradjieff, who has followed their brother from northwestern Greece to Cincinnati.

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In 1940, Johnny Johnson's uncle opened Camp Washington Chili. He was also a Greek immigrant, who had worked for Empress. Johnson estimated his family and the Kiradjieffs were from within a 10-mile radius in Greece. 

"And there's no chili there," he joked.

In Cincinnati, the two families lived nextdoor to each other. Current Camp Washington Chili owner Maria Papakirk, Johnson's daughter, said her parents wanted to help out when the Kiradjieffs were ready to retire. 

"They were looking for a buyer, so they approached my husband and I to see if we wanted to carry the Empress tradition," Papakirk said. 

Her husband, Jim, decided to purchase the Empress brand. He's been running it for several years. She still runs Camp Washington Chili.

"We love the Empress family, as should everybody in Cincinnati, because without the Empress family there would be no Cincinnati chili," Papakirk said. 

The family tradition has won over Cincinnati chili fans like Camp Washington Chili regular Sylvia Rombis. 

"That's how we show and express our love to others," she said. "It's always around families and meals and all this, so it's totally natural for us as a Greek community to kind of gather around food and work around food."