Before there was a Mexican restaurant boom, there was Chi-Chi's

Restaurant Rewind: Here's the little-remembered saga of the casual-dining pioneer that gave us fried ice cream.

Today, diners can’t lob a jalapeno in a decent-sized town without hitting a Mexican restaurant of some sort. Many likely don’t realize the way was blazed for those options by a former Green Bay Packer and a displaced West Coaster who couldn’t find so much as a taco in his new Midwest haunts.

As this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast reports, the unlikely pair would introduce patches of the heartland to burritos and the like through a restaurant concept named after one of the partner’s wife. She went by the nickname of Chi-Chi.

Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks at how the early casual-dining brand served as an unlikely apostle for Mexican fare. But, as the episode shows, that was only one wrinkle in the story. Chi-Chi’s history was a classic tale of a brand growing too quickly, without rock-sound unit economics, without a truly defensible point of difference.

Download the episode and all installments of Restaurant Rewind wherever you get your podcasts.

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