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Ben Ali, founder of the iconic U Street restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, died Wednesday evening. He was 82.

Ali, a native of Trinidad, opened Ben’s Chili Bowl with his wife, Virginia, in 1958. The spot has been known for, among other things, being a date night place for comedian Bill Cosby and his wife, and being the only U Street business to last through the 1968 riots. The restaurant is famous for its chili and half-smokes, the latter considered by some to be D.C.’s signature dish.

The restaurant is now run by Ali’s sons, Kamal and Nizam.

In a statement on the restaurant’s Web site, the family said they “want to thank Ben Ali for leading this legacy and allowing us to follow in his dream. We miss you and love you.”

Councilman Kwame Brown, D-At-large, sent out a statement Thursday morning saying Ali was a family friend and inspiration.

“Through the best times and the worst times in our city’s history, Ben was eternally optimistic,” Brown said. “Ben was a civil rights pioneer and the embodiment of entrepreneurial spirit.”

The restaurant expanded last year, adding a more upscale component, Ben’s Next Door. It got a boost of business when President Barack Obama made a visit in January.