WTF is wrong with this country?
Perhaps it has to do with an entire generation that has never really known hard times.
Mmmm. Hard Times!
THE HARD TIMES STORY
THE AMERICAN CHILI PARLOR
It was during the early part of the 20th century that the open range of the West was finally fenced and the railroads replaced the great cattle drives.
That was when many out of work chuck wagon cooks moved to town and opened small restaurants that featured chili con carne, a meat and pepper stew first concocted to feed the hungry trail drive cowboys. It caught on and soon became a national favorite.
The beloved cowboy philosopher Will Rogers said he always judged a town by the quality of its Chili. He liked to hang out at chili parlors where he took the pulse of the nation for his syndicated column in the 1920â€™s.
During the Great Depression chili parlors supplied an inexpensive and nourishing meal for millionâ€™s of Americans. A newspaper man at the time was quoted as saying that during those hard times chili saved more lives than the Red Cross.
Meat rationing during WWII forced the closing of many chili parlors and although many restaurants today offer chili on their menus, few authentic chili parlors remain. The mission of the Hard Times is to maintain this unique American culinary institution.
THE HARD TIMES CAFE ROOTS
Ira Goodfellow was born in Grapevine, Texas in 1874. When he was 15 years old his father gave him a horse, double-barreled shot gun and a ten dollar bill and he told him it was time to go out and seek his fortune.
My brother Jim and I know of this story because Ira Goodfellow was our Grandfather. His first job was a trail drive cowboy at the Waggoner ranch near Wichita Falls, Texas. It was there he learned how to prepare chili from a chuck wagon cook.
He learned to cook more than chili because when he homesteaded in Oklahoma territory he taught his new bride how to handle herself in the kitchen. Irma, his oldest daughter eventually took over the kitchen chores and it was grandpa Iraâ€™s chili recipe she used when she opened a small roadhouse in Gracemont, Oklahoma in the late 1940â€™s.
Irma became famous for her Texas chili and would have customers drive the fifty miles from Oklahoma City just for a taste. Her place finally succumbed to the new interstate highway system, a fate shared by many independent eateries on the secondary roads of the country.
It was twenty five years later around the mid 1960â€™s that brother Jim and I discovered the Texas Chili Parlor of Washington DC on Pennsylvania Avenue. This was a little joint that had been around since the early 1930â€™s and was located about three blocks from the White House.
Open until 3am it was a favorite hang out for cabbies, policeman, reporters and other folks working the graveyard shift. The Texas Chili Parlor also had a high profile clientele.
David Brinkley was a regular as was President Truman who lived a couple of blocks away in the White House.
The place was owned by two salty old ladies named Barbara Abbot and Hazel Caloway and their Chili tasted just like our Aunt Irmaâ€™s. The place only served straight chili, chili with beans, chili dogs and chili mac. That was it.
The two women had been feuding for years and would not work together , so they each would run the place two weeks on and two weeks off. Each had a loyal customer following and Jim and I were in Hazelâ€™s camp.
Eventually they split up and only Hazelâ€™s place survived. She died in 1971 and the Texas Chili Parlor went out of business.
For the next nine years I kept the memory of our local chili parlor alive by turning part of my home into a chili parlor.
Using the family recipe I served the famous Texas Chili mac to friends and family and we would sit around and tell Hazel stories.
In 1980 Jim and I decided to turn what had been a hobby into a real business and opened our first store on King Street in Old Town Alexandria where it still operates today. Since then hundreds of Hazelâ€™s old customers have found us along with a throng of new fans each year. In October of 2005 USA Today named us as one of the 10 best places in the country for a bowl of chili.
- Fred Parker