Chili’s first location, a converted postal station on Greenville Avenue in Dallas, Texas, opened in 1975. Lavine’s concept was to create an informal, full-service dining restaurant with a menu featuring different types of hamburgers offered at an affordable price. The brand proved successful, and by the early 1980s there were 28 Chili’s locations in the region, all featuring similar Southwest decor. In 1983, Lavine sold the company to restaurant executive Norman E. Brinker, formerly of the Pillsbury restaurant group. Chili’s now has locations in all 50 U. S. states, 30 international locations and two territories.
It’s easy to see why Chili’s has become such a firm favourite among Dubai’s families. First, there’s the wall-to-wall decor of exposed brick, vintage Americana (think mid-’80s posters promoting provincial chilli ‘cook-offs’) and fake greenery. The result is too thick, too clumsy, to persuade the wayward Texan that he has found his way home, but does make for a riot of colour and interest to help keep little ones amused. Secondly, the veritable army of Chili’s serving staff will happily create an astonishing spectacle of noise and cheer when you opt to hold a birthday here.
And finally, there’s the indulgent menu of massive portions. Even the starters are almost impossible to finish: nachos are smeared liberally with hot and cheesy chilli; the signature Old Timer burger boasts enough dollops of relish on the thick meaty patty that the bun is likely to disintegrate; and sizzling platters of fajitas produce thick clouds of salty smoke guaranteed to get hungry mouths slavering, provided you don’t choke on the heady vapours first. Assuming you don’t try to finish each portion, you might even have room to tackle the oozing mass of molten chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream.
Of course, there are two sides to every story, and for many diners the blatant Americana will prove claustrophobic, the menu (aside from a few surprisingly tasty Guiltless Grill options) just too calorific, and the average of five greetings per visit unnecessary, bordering on the intrusive. Nonetheless, Chili’s is consistently heaving, and dotted among those families are many workers who have come direct from a long day at the office. It’s not just little kids in Dubai who appreciate piles of greasy comfort food – Chili’s lacks refinement, but serves this up in great quantities.