Glad You Asked: What happened to Chi-Chi’s? Why did they close?

2008-02-09T00:00:00Z 2012-03-29T12:05:20Z Glad You Asked: What happened to Chi-Chi’s? Why did they close?By Journal Times staff Journal Times
February 09, 2008 12:00 am  • 

Jonesing for some Mexican fried ice cream? This question comes in quite a bit.

A combination of bankruptcy and hepatitis drove the chain out of business.

Chi-Chi's was founded in 1975 by restaurateur Marno McDermott and a former Green Bay Packers player, the late Max McGee.

Chi-Chi's was named "America's Favorite Mexican Restaurant" eight years in a row in an independent consumer study conducted by Restaurants and Institutions, an industry magazine.

The Louisville, Ky., based chain, which employed 7,000 people, eventually ended up bankrupt. In August 2004, a $42.5 million bid by Tampa Bay, Fla.-based Outback Steakhouse was accepted in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The publicly traded Outback purchased the designation rights for 76 Chi-Chi's properties, including furniture, fixtures, equipment and liquor licenses.

As a result, Racine's Chi-Chi's Mexican Restaurant served its last meals on Sept. 18, 2004.

The sale followed one of the worse hepatitis A outbreaks in American restaurant history in November 2003 at a Chi-Chi's in the Pittsburgh area. Four died and 660 others contracted the illness, eventually traced to green onions at the Chi-Chi's at Beaver Valley Mall in Monaca, Pa.

Outback sold many of the former Chi-Chi's properties to Kimco Realty Corp., a real estate investment trust company in New York. A lot of the former Chi-Chi's properties sit vacant, including the one at Regency Mall.

Products such as salsa and drink mixes are still being marketed with the Chi-Chi's name.

Some dude is running a blog featuring creepy abandoned Chi-Chi's buildings:

http://creepyabandonedchichis.blogspot.com/

Why are some drinks called cocktails?

No one really knows, but some interesting ideas exist about the phrase's origin. It definitely dates to colonial America - this we know, and, in most cases, involves a bird.

A Revolutionary War innkeeper named Betsy Flanagan supposedly stole chickens from the British, roasted them and sold them to hungry patrons. She served guests a special brew after the meal, in glasses adorned with chicken feathers. A Frenchman shouted "Vive le cocktail!" one evening, and a legend might have been born.

Several stories surround Flanagan. All involve stolen British birds, feeding those birds to the American Army and copious amounts of drink, with someone, always a Frenchman, shouting "Vive le cocktail!" at some point.

One legend claims drinks leftover at close of business in taverns and bars were poured into a large ceramic rooster. Those strapped for cash could purchase a pint of the swill that flowed from a tap in the rooster's tail.

Another source claims a tap in colonial America was called a cock and the dregs, or bottom of the brew, a tail. One disgusted customer, after tasting the filth, loudly exclaimed he'd stick to cocktails of his own origin, and concocted his own mixed drinks.

I hope they were strong.

A cocktail is also a term for a mixed-breed horse with a bobbed tail. The term cocktail might allude to the mixed drink, or to the assertion the drink was strong enough to "cock the tail" of anyone who drank.

The term might also derive from something called "cock ale," a strong alcoholic mixture fed to fighting cocks to whip them into fighting spirit. The same drink was sold to the crowd.

Cockfighting is now illegal; thank God cocktails aren't. Order one and leave us be.

What is Glad You Asked?

GYA seeks answers to your questions. Have a question? Call us at (262) 631-1758 or send us an e-mail at

ask@journaltimes.com

Copyright 2015 Journal Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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