Alleged sexual predator Bill Cosby is still prominently displayed in a mural adorning the original Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, despite an ongoing criminal trial, repeated petitions to remove the image, and even a one-time defacement. Yet over at the newer Arlington location, there are signs that the Ali family may be wavering in their support of “The Cos”—as he was referred to in a portrait along the restaurant’s wall, which boasted a large, signed image of the comedian and mini-history of “Ben’s most famous regular customer.” The panel has since been removed.
Cosby, who cut the opening ribbon at the Arlington shop with founder Virginia Ali in 2014, has become a public source of contention for the family since the sexual allegations against the comedian began to proliferate—though not a topic the owners will readily discuss; Washingtonian reached out to spokeswoman Vida Ali, who declined to return requests for comment. While other institutions have torn down statues, revoked honorary degrees—as was the case at George Washington University—and removed imagery, extracting Cosby from the Ben’s brand seems to be a slow and perhaps reluctant process. Two small photographs of the actor with Virginia and Ben Ali still adorn the Arlington wall in a section celebrating stars at Ben’s, featured alongside Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and others. At the opening of the newest H Street branch, traces of Cosby were noticeably absent.
Two years ago, Vida Ali told the Washington City Paper that “Cosby is part of our family.” It looks like he may be an increasingly distant member.