"There's probably something else about Camp Washington Chili. A sense of camaraderie, familiarity and togetherness. A sense of neighborhood. All of which, as much as Johnson's secret spice recipe, is truly precious." (Issue of Aug. 6, 1998).
Now: Relocated right next door, Camp Washington Chili is better than ever, according to Johnson's daughter Maria Papakirk, vice president of operations at the restaurant. "Business has increased," she says. "Everybody loves the look of the new place. Everything's been very positive since the change."
The new location allowed the restaurant to expand its dining room. "Our old dining room was tiny and narrow," Papakirk says. "Now we have more room to dine in. That's allowed us to expand our menu."
As for her father, Papakirk insists that he's still going strong, with no mention of retirement any time soon. "He's just so into the place," she explains. "He's been working there since 1951. It's the only job he's ever had. Can you imagine? He wants to make sure the operation is smooth."
Plus, she reflects, "part of the appeal is going (to the restaurant) and talking to my dad. We still have customers who started coming in the 1940s. They like to compare the old and the new. As long as the chili is the same, they'll keep coming."
Speaking of old and new, there's now a third generation in Johnson's family to keep the chili tradition alive. John and his wife Antigone have kept the business on its feet for more than 50 years; daughters Christine and Maria, along with Maria's husband Jim, are involved on the administrative side; and, most recently, Maria's 3-year-old son Stratton has taken an interest in the restaurant.
"He likes to stir the chili," she says, laughing. "The chili itself is a little too spicy for him. But he loves hot dogs with cheese. He just likes being there."
As do the regulars. Fortunately for the customers who have come to love Camp Washington Chili, Papakirk sums it up: "We're not going anywhere."
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