One of my fellow students from the Springfield High School class of 1962 is retiring at the end of January. While most of us have already retired with little fanfare, this is a lady whose leaving will be felt by many in our town.
Marianne Rogers is ending her longtime role as the owner of our most popular chili parlor.
When I was young, Springfield was a great chili town. We had Al’s Chili, the Dew, Scully’s, Franny’s and Lawsons, among others. There was even a plant manufacturing chili. One of my field trips in grade school was a visit to the Ray’s Chili plant on South 15th.
Seeing the production line cranking out cans of Ray’s was fascinating. We ate Ray’s at home for years after that.
The first chili parlor that I frequented in high school was the Dew on South Fifth Street. (The recent resurrection of this spot after many years was a welcome event.)
It was cool going to the Dew in the evening, sitting at the counter and talking to Joe Brocklemeyer as the old man created some of the handmade signs that gave the place its singular character.
The signs and the counter were pictured in Look, the national news magazine, when they sent their writers home to report on life in the middle of the country. Springfield native Jane Howard picked the Dew as representative of life here.
The chili at the Dew was single pot, meaning it was all cooked and dished out so that every bowl was the same.
Then I discovered the Den in Southtown. I was reluctant to go there the first time, a neighborhood I didn’t know. But my high school friend Dave Hood insisted.
I quickly became addicted. The appeal was the way they dished up the chili. You were able to have the beans, meat and oil mixed in the proportions that suited you.
Not only that, but you could pick how much heat your dish contained. I soon learned that you could have it mild, medium, medium with a touch (more spice), medium hot, hot, or firebrand.
The firebrand was so hot, or spicy, that anyone eating an entire bowl got his name posted on the wall.
I tried firebrand once. I was young. Never again. But I did learn the perfect mixture for me...medium hot, extra meat, no beans. Heaven...I have been eating it that way for years.
The chili was served in flat metal dishes. The menu was spare – chili, hot dogs and marvelous tamales wrapped in corn shucks. Soft drinks, milk and buttermilk to drink.
When I first became a customer the Den was in a narrow storefront with only enough room for a counter with about a dozen stools. Joe Rogers started the place 70 years ago this month.
In those days the Den was open until 1 a.m. Most of the customers at that time of night were drunks who had just closed some bar.
When Joe died, his daughter, Marianne, took over. She has tried to retire twice before, but this time she declares it is final. In the past she did contract-for-deed sales which didn’t work out. This time it was an outright sale of the business, the building on South Ninth, and the recipe.
The new owners are Roy and Stephanie Beal who promise to continue the business just as is. I hope they do because it is a winning formula.
Four things have made the place, now named simply The Chili Parlor, unique: the wonderful chili, the hard-working staff, the clean comfortable venue, and most of all the cheery greeting from Marianne.
She seems to know every customer by name. She is always glad to see you. And she is always there making sure you are happy and your chili is exactly the way you want it.
I said you can order chili with a touch. In the parlance of the place that means with just a little extra hot meat added.
But I think it has a deeper meaning. Marianne served every meal with a touch...of love for her customers.
The entire family of Chili Parlor customers wish Marianne Rogers good luck with a touch...of love.
Phil Bradley of Chatham is particular about his chili. Like many of the regulars he stops in to the Chili Parlor at least once a week.