12 April 2020

Otto Branning: SLC Chili King

Otto Branning. From Men of Affairs
in the State of Utah 1914

A well-liked proprietor of several chili parlors in the early 1900s, Otto E Branning (1860-1927) was the self-proclaimed Chili King of Salt Lake City.

Chili is a dish that was born in San Antonio by Mexican immigrant women in the 1880s where they forged a new cuisine and business model by selling it by the bowl to passers-by. In 1893, the World’s Fair was held in Chicago and one of these “chili queens” debuted chili to the world. Chili parlors soon spread throughout the United States.

Branning was born in Indiana and at 13 years old he left for Chicago where he worked various jobs including selling beans at 10 cents a bowl. In 1901 he and his family moved to SLC and he established a small lunch stand. 

By 1903 he had upgraded his business to a full-service chili parlor located at 17 E. 200 South. By 1906, Branning’s Chili Parlor was the most popular chili places in SLC with locations at 315 S. Main Street and 36 E. 100 South.

Branning advertised nightly specials complete with “moving pictures and an orchestra” and unapologetically advertised his chili parlor as a rambunctious party place. He served chili con carne, tamales, Spanish veal stew, and limburger cheese.

In April 1910, Branning relocated from Main Street to the first floor of the Hotel Semloh. There was a saloon next door on the corner that had a window in the wall that could be opened into the chili parlor. Food could be passed from the chili parlor, if wanted, into the saloon and beer could be ordered from the saloon and consumed at the chili parlor.

In 1913 Branning wished to relocate to California. He sold his chili business to Sieger Springer. It was a very successful business for one year; then Branning decided to come back to SLC and in an underhanded manner he opened another chili parlor at 103 E. 200 South, just 118 feet away from Springer. This really hurt business and in 1914 the Springers sold their chili parlor.

Otto Branning continued to operate his chili parlor at 103 E. 200 South until he retired in 1922 and moved to Santa Monica, CA. His son, Ralph, stayed in Salt Lake and continued to operate Branning’s Chili parlor through the 1940s.

Advertisement, from SLC Directory 1905

Advertisement, Utah Daily Chronicle 1926-01-29

Update 23 June 2020: 
It seems as if Branning did another underhanded business deal with Mr. Abraham Mejia who started Salt Lake's first Mexican Restaurant. It was Abraham Mejia who taught Branning how to make chili and tamales but Branning ousted Abraham out of the business and they became competitors.

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