Whatever Happened to Chi-Chi's Restaurants?

A deadly hepatitis A outbreak devastated the chain in the U.S., but locations remain overseas.

The home of the chimichanga and fried ice cream, Chi-Chi's was big on spicy food, from salsa and nachos to everything else Americans thought of as Tex-Mex food. Created by former Green Bay Packers star Max McGee and restaurateur Marno McDermit, it launched in 1975 in the unlikeliest of places for a Mexican food chain: downtown Minneapolis.

The timing was perfect, with Mexican food a trendy choice for diners at that time. Chi-Chi's took off, growing to 237 locations by 1986. But increased competition and a slew of unfortunate events spelled the chain's demise: The number of location slipped to 144 by 2002; Chi-Chi's filed for bankruptcy in 2003; and a month after that filing, tainted green onions imported from Mexico and served at a Chi-Chi's near Pittsburgh caused a hepatitis A outbreak that sickened 636 people and killed four.

The U.S. chain never recovered, though there are Chi-Chi's restaurants in Europe, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. And you can still find Chi-Chi's-branded products, owned by Hormel, in supermarkets.

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Learn the fates of 13 more classic restaurant chains including Steak and Ale, Beefsteak Charlie's and Bennigan's.

Bob Niedt
Online Editor, Kiplinger.com

Bob is a Senior Online Editor at Kiplinger.com. He has more than 40 years of experience in online, print and visual journalism. Bob has worked as an award-winning writer and editor in the Washington, D.C., market as well as at news organizations in New York, Michigan and California. Bob joined Kiplinger in 2016, bringing a wealth of expertise covering retail, entertainment, and money-saving trends and topics. He was one of the first journalists at a daily news organization to aggressively cover retail as a specialty, and has been lauded in the retail industry for his expertise. Bob has also been an adjunct and associate professor of print, online and visual journalism at Syracuse University and Ithaca College. He has a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from Hope College.