Our Story


Real Chili was bestowed upon humanity in 1931 by Francis Honish, a former Green Bay chili parlor protégé. Eager to stamp his signature on the Wisconsin concoction of spicy meat ladled over noodles and beans, Francis brought his chili-making chops to Milwaukee, engineered his own recipe, and began slinging the legendary mild, medium, and hot bowls down a nine-stool bartop in the Jesuit residence at Marquette University.

Ninety years later Real Chili is still cookin’, having outlasted all the competition. (Ha! Take that!) The celebrated chili, the time-honored diner décor, and the beloved barkeeps (well, chili servers) draw friends, family, and fans for every occasion. Generations of Real Chili aficionados return regularly to the downtown Milwaukee and Marquette campus town locations for lunch, dinner, or late-night breakfast. Stop in to revisit old memories, start new ones, and pass on the tradition of Real Chili, where everyone bonds over a bowl of the best.

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The Real Chili spice mix is so special and so secret, only seven stewards have safeguarded its magical mystery over nearly a century. And while the recipe remains strictly confidential (we’re proud that hackers can’t come close to it), the resulting dish is something to share with all the world.

What’s so special about Real Chili? Extra meat builds the heat. Rather than slam you off the Scoville scale with pungent hot peppers, Real Chili confers a rich complexity of flavors that builds intensity bite by bite. For medium- or hot- spiced bowls, we layer on extra chili to up the spice. Already a perfect comfort food, Real Chili is rich and hearty fine ground beef with a robust and irresistible flavor profile.

Chili bowl servedStaff member stirring big pot, black and white photoChili sauce and beans


Do we stop at real ingredients and amazing chili flavor? OF COURSE NOT. We add a one-of-a-kind Real Chili touch with our own pepper-infused vinegar served in deceivingly cute little glass cruets. Drizzle on that tangy tartness and TASTE LIFE AT ANOTHER LEVEL.

And do we stop THERE?? HECK NO! Steve - present guardian of the Real Chili galaxy - created VEGETARIAN CHILI. Whoa. Unbelievably soy-, dairy-, and gluten-free, this veggie mix sports Real Chili’s secret spices and makes a hearty meal that’s rich and tasty, with an impressively thick chili texture.

Our history is built on chili bowls, and chili dogs have been a staple for decades, but these days our chili adds zing to other menu items as well. Our specialties include soft shell tacos, walking tacos, Frito pies, chili cheese nachos, and nachos supreme.

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We’re all about having fun while eating. (OYSTER CRACKER FIGHT!) But our food is serious business. In other words, we do it right, and we keep it REAL.

  • Modified starch on that cheese? NEVER. Ours is pure dairy cheese, hand grated extra-fine, made to melt your heart as it melts on your chili.
  • Thickeners in the sour cream? NOPE. NADA. Just the good stuff.
  • Preservatives in the crackers? NO WAY. We don’t do plastic packets of stale stuff. We serve crispy oyster crackers heaped in cute little bowls.
  • Canned beans? ARE YOU KIDDING?! We start with the dried kind and slave for days to sort, clean, soak, and serve up savory, creamy, yummy beans.
  • BHA in the noodles? NOT HAPPENING. Ours are preservative-free and cooked fresh every day.
  • Additives in the meat? (Yeah, we won’t even mention what thosemight be.) Ours are PERFECTION—all beef hot dogs and 100% pure, fresh, finely ground beef in the chili.
  • By now you could guess that our onions are chopped fresh daily. And the poppyseed buns? Best buns in the biz.

Relationships are made to last at Real Chili, and that includes our vendor connections! We still source ingredients from some local suppliers we’ve had since 1931. (What can we say? People reeeally like us, and we like consistent quality of the highest order.)

Various spices in bowlsEmployee cutting up saladStaff member pouring beans into bowlStaff member dicing tomatoes


Steve Kastelic, current owner and general manager of Real Chili, is living a Hotel California experience: You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave. As a high schooler, Steve innocently volunteered to help a friend’s dad by taking a shift at Real Chili. Nine years and one accounting degree later, Steve owned the place. He’s one of two living souls to guard the secret spice recipe and a fervent evangelist of all things Real Chili. Good thing he loves it. ‘Cause he couldn’t leave if he wanted to.

Steve bought the biz in 2007 from his friend and boss, Dan Helfer, himself a 30-year veteran behind the chili counter, alongside his sister, Mickey, and initially, his father “Seb” (Sebastian). The Helfers were closely tied to founder Francis Honish, who manned the kitchen for 46 years before entrusting the stores and secret recipe to Seb and Dan in 1977. Dan deserves credit for the trademarked look of the Real Chili shops, with their checkerboard floors, chili-red striped walls, and framed memories adorning the walls.

Servers often stick around for decades as well, claiming VIP spots in Real Chili history by charming patrons over the years. Blondie is a fan favorite of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s who coined the term “Marquette Special” —the students’ standard fare of medium chili over beans and spaghetti, topped with cheese, onions, sour cream or jalapeños. Today’s Real Chili servers pay homage to Blondie with a cry of “Mix it up!

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SINCE 1931

Like the chili flavors that deepen and develop over time, Real Chili has melded into the Marquette and Milwaukee communities. Through final exams, reunions, festivals, championships, conventions, concerts, parades, and more, we’ve dished out second helpings and secured a spot in the hearts of Real Chili fans everywhere. Now an institution to locals and a mandatory must-see for visitors, Real Chili welcomes all—from beatniks to barristers, bridesmaids to ball players, unruly to erudite, mainstream to magnificent—The Real Chili pot always simmers with the promise of good food, good people, and good times.

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