Chi-Chi's was a popular Mexican restaurant chain from 1975 to 2004. It ceased to exist within the United States following a 2003 Hepatitis A outbreak that began at one of its locations in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Chi-Chi's is still in operation in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Indonesia. Chi-Chi's also marketed a line of grocery foods (later purchased by Hormel) with an emphasis on salsa.


Chi-Chi's was founded in 1975 by restaurateur Marno McDermott and former Green Bay Packers player Max McGee.

Management and marketing

Chi-Chi's used the term "Salsafication" and its many forms (i.e. "Salsarific", "Salsafy", "Declaration of Salsafication", et al) in menus and training videos. Store managers also used the term in meetings and in daily operations as a motivational tool. In 2001, Chi-Chi's applied for a trademark on the word "Salsafication" but was denied by the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.

The company's slogan was "A celebration of food" and later "Life Always Needs a Little Salsa."

Bankruptcy, Hepatitis A, and closure in North America

Chi-Chi's last owner while still in business in the U.S. was Prandium Inc., which had filed for bankruptcy several times, including in 1993 as Restaurant Enterprises Group Inc. and in 2002 as Prandium. On October 8, 2003, Chi-Chi's and Koo Koo Roo, another Prandium subsidiary, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy themselves.

In November 2003, a month after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Chi-Chi's was hit with the largest hepatitis A outbreak in U.S. history, with at least 4 deaths and 660 other victims of illness in the Pittsburgh area, including high school students who caught the disease from the original victims. The hepatitis was traced back to green onions at the Chi-Chi's at Beaver Valley Mall in Monaca, Pennsylvania, about northwest of Pittsburgh. While the sickness was not linked to the cleanliness or staff of the restaurants themselves, Chi-Chi's took a hit from the outbreak: by mid-2004, Chi-Chi's only had 65 restaurants, less than half of the number from only four years before. Although Chi-Chi's settled the hepatitis A lawsuits by July 2004, the outbreak sealed the fate of the already-bankrupt company.

In August 2004, Outback Steakhouse bid $42.5 million for the rights to buy its choice of Chi-Chi's 76 properties, but did not purchase the Chi-Chi's name, operations, or recipes. On the weekend of September 18, 2004, Chi-Chi's closed all 65 of its remaining restaurants.

Outback had hoped to convert many of the properties to their own restaurants, but instead eventually sold the majority of the properties to Kimco Realty Corporation, a real estate investment trust company in New Hyde Park, New York. Many of the former Chi-Chi's properties still sit unused as of 2007.

Hormel Foods, who had bought the rights to use the Chi-Chi's brand on grocery products years ago, still produces Chi-Chi's salsa and related products as of 2007, separate from any restaurants.


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