Where did all the Michigan Chi-Chi’s go?
Just about everyone I knew loved going to Chi-Chi's - “Home of the Chimichanga” and fried ice cream.
Fried ice cream? How is that possible? That's what people kept asking when it was introduced. We all had to go see – and order - this for ourselves. It was actually pretty good: I remember the fried ice cream delivered to your table in a fried round ball, crispy on the outside, cold on the inside. Pretty simple, but it would have to be flashed-fried so the inside wouldn't have time to melt.
Aside from the fried ice cream, I recall the portions as being huge – at least the ones I got were. Huge burritos, enchiladas, etc. with huge scoops of rice, lettuce, and refried beans. A full order of cheesy nachos could fill more than one person. WOW. I left the table waddling out the door.
But where did they all go? They just seemed to fade away with no fanfare.
Thanks to info from kiplinger.com, Chi-Chi's was founded by a former football player: Max McGee of the Green Bay Packers with the business end handled by restaurateur Marno McDermit (“Chi Chi” was McDermit's wife's nickname).
The first Chi-Chi's opened in Minneapolis in 1975. It's success spawned 237 locations by 1986. Seeing the success of Chi-Chi's, other Mexican restaurants began to pop up around the country. The increased competition decreased the number of Chi-Chi's and by 2002 there were only 144 left. Bankruptcy followed in 2003.
But the nail in the Chi-Chi coffin came in 2003 when a hepatitis outbreak ended up with 636 violently ill customers and four dead. What caused it? Cases of tainted green onions that came from south of the border.
That was it. By 2004, all U.S. Chi-Chi's died a quick death. However, there are still some Chi-Chi's left in the world, but you'd have to travel to Asia, Austria, Belgium, Kuwait, Luxembourg, the Middle East, or North Africa.
There is a Chi Chi's in Michigan up in Rogers City, but it's not Tex-Mex food...it's a burger joint...and there's no hyphen in the name.
If you want to re-live the old Chi-Chi experience, just go down to the supermarket. You can still buy the famous Chi-Chi's salsa, chips, taco sauce, green chiles, and con queso.
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