Chili Willi's

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Owner Ron Smith poses on the sidewalk outside the second location of
Chili Willi's restaurant at 841 4th. Ave.

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HUNTINGTON  After nearly 30 years, Chili Willi's closed its doors in 2011.
For much of that time, it was one of Huntington's most popular restaurants.

"It's hard if you're an independent, small business. We've been in this 'economic
downturn' for four years now," owner Ron Smith explained. And they
 just didn't have the capital to continue, he said.

Chili Willi's opened in 1983 as a tiny, 32-seat diner on 4th Avenue,
sandwiched between the Huntington Elks Lodge and what was
 then the Orpheum Theater (later re-named the Cinema).
 The restaurant quickly became known for its
award-winning chili and its authentic,
fresh Tex-Mex food.

In 1986, Smith moved the restaurant to a new larger location
 at 841 4th Avenue. It was able to seat 80 diners and
 was later expanded to 100 seats.

In 2005, Smith moved his popular eatery a third time to 1314 4th Ave.,
 borrowing $1.2 million to cover the cost of the relocation. For the
 first time, the restaurant had its own parking lot. But that
wasn't enough to attract customers who were
 being pinched by the recession.

In 2009, Chili Willi's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to
restructure its debt, though it continued to operate as
 usual until 2011 when it closed.

For more than three decades, Smith has been the driving force behind ChiliFest,
 an annual celebration. The inaugural festival drew a modest crowd to
Ritter Park in 1983. Today, the yearly celebration attracts as many
 as 20,000 people who jam the streets at downtown's  Pullman
 Square. Cooking teams travel to Huntington from all over
the East Coast to compete in the International
Chili Society's West Virginia State
Championship cook-off.

ChiliFest is the biggest annual fundraiser for Huntington's
Ronald McDonald House. Over the years, it's raised
 a total of more than $500,000 for the House.

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Note:  This Article and picture appeared in the Herald-Dispatch Newspaper on Apr. 3, 2018.

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