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Location on Vine Street in downtown Cincinnati
|Founded||1949 in Cincinnati, Ohio|
|Headquarters||Fairfield, Ohio, USA|
Number of locations
|136 (July 2016)|
|Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Florida|
|Kevin McDonnell, CEO; Nicholas Lambrinides, Founder|
|Slogan||It's Skyline Time.|
Skyline Chili is a chain of chili restaurants based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Founded in 1949 by Greek immigrant Nicholas Lambrinides, Skyline Chili is named for the view of Cincinnati's skyline that Lambrinides could see from his first restaurant (which has since been demolished), opened in the section of town now known as Price Hill. It is also the "official chili" of many local professional sports teams and venues, including the Cincinnati Reds, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Kings Island theme park, and also sponsors the Crosstown Classic, an annual men's college basketball rivalry game between the city's two NCAA Division I teams, Cincinnati and Xavier.
In 1912, Nicholas Lambrinides immigrated to Cincinnati from Kastoria, Greece, and brought his favorite family recipes with him. To save up the money to bring his wife to America as well, he first worked as a cook for a railroad crew and in a hotel kitchen, then opened a short-order diner. After nearly a decade, his wife was able to join him in Cincinnati and they raised five sons.
By World War II, Lambrinides was working as a chef for the original Empress Chili restaurant, where he continued to tinker with a recipe which he had been developing for years. In 1949, he and three of his sons opened their own place on Glenway Avenue, near the top of a steep hill (Price's or Price Hill). That diner was located at the intersection of what is now Quebec and Glenway Avenue. The owners named it Skyline Chili for its panoramic view of downtown Cincinnati. After some local resistance in the predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood, Skyline developed a large and devoted following—especially on Thursdays and Saturdays, which immediately preceded and succeeded meatless Fridays.
The family opened a second restaurant in 1953 and the growth of the business accelerated in the 1960s; by the end of the century, there were 110 Skyline restaurants, mostly in Ohio, but with additional establishments in other states including Kentucky, Indiana, and Florida. Lambrinides died in 1962 at the age of 82, but his sons continued to operate and expand the company. They retained the original recipe unchanged, though. According to William Lambrinides, "Dad always said, 'Don't change a thing with the recipe—don't add anything, don't take out anything, it's perfect the way it is'." As a result, Skyline's version has largely become synonymous with "Cincinnati-style chili". In 1998, the company was sold to Fleet Equity Partners, a New England investment firm, which promised not to change the recipe (which they reportedly keep locked in a safe).
In 2007, the company's board of directors purchased a majority of the Skyline stock previously owned by Chicago-based Prudential Capital Group.
Skyline Chili is unique in that it is not chili con carne, the meat dish that originated in (and is the state dish of) Texas. Instead, Cincinnati-style chili is a sauce usually used over spaghetti or hot dogs, containing a unique spice blend that gives it a very distinct taste. Officially, the recipe for Skyline Chili is a well-kept family secret among Lambrinides' surviving children. However, many Skyline patrons believe that the unique taste of Skyline Chili comes from chocolate and cinnamon, spices common in Greek cuisine's meat dishes. The general recipe is not unique to Skyline—"Cincinnati-style" chili is sold by several chili parlors (the local term used to describe restaurants offering this specialty) in the area. These include both chains and single-outlet restaurants. The chains include Empress, Dixie, and Gold Star Chili, while Camp Washington, Chili Time, Price Hill Chili, Dawson's School House of Chili, are single-outlet chili parlors.
Skyline's menu includes their signature dishes: cheese coneys (a hot dog topped with Skyline Chili, mustard, onions, and cheese), and 3-ways (spaghetti topped with Skyline Chili and cheese); 4-ways (choice of beans or onions added), and 5-ways (beans and onions both added). Additional menu items include burritos made with Skyline Chili (including the Chilito), classic and Greek-style salads, french fries, cheese fries, garlic bread, cheese bread, and baked potatoes topped with Skyline Chili. To accommodate patrons who follow a low carbohydrate diet, Skyline has recently offered low-carb options such as a "coney bowl"—a cheese coney without the bun, and also now serves vegetarian options, using black beans and rice in place of chili in many of its dishes. There is also a dessert menu and a kids menu. With every meal, Skyline Chili provides a bowl or package of oyster crackers.
One Cincinnatian party staple is the famous "Skyline Dip." It is made with layers of cream cheese, canned Skyline Chili, and shredded cheddar cheese. It is cooked for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. It is served with tortilla chips as an appetizer at most parties. This dip is sold in some stores, and it is extremely popular among the natives.
Skyline's chili and other related products are also available in supermarkets in its marketing area. Offerings include the chili sauce sold in cans and frozen microwave dinners with the meat sauce spread over spaghetti noodles.
Skyline Chili operates 136 restaurants in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Florida. The restaurants may be considered somewhere between "fast food" and "casual dining." Diners may sit at a booth or table and be served by a waiter, or at many locations, sit at a counter near employees preparing the food. At all restaurants, dishes are assembled at a centrally located service island so diners may watch their food as it is made. Food prepping takes only a few minutes so one often gets their food quickly. Carry-out and drive-through service are also available at most locations.
- Skyline Chili opens 129th location in Wilmington, OH
- Skyline Chili co-founder dead at 88 Cincinnati Enquirer; April 20, 2012
- "Skyline Nation". Skyline Chili.
- Skyline Chili Back in Local Hands WKRC; Dec. 17, 2007