KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The 1982 World's Fair brought ideas from all over to Knoxville, and that includes the 'Chili and Fritos in a bag' concept the Widmer brothers turned into a thriving business.
Originally dubbed 'petroleum belly' to coincide with the fair's energy theme, it's known today as Petro's Chili and Chips.
"There was a couple who brought the concept from Washington State, and the story that I know is that my dad and his youngest brother got introduced to Petros at the World’s Fair and loved the concept so much that they reached out to them and said ‘this is awesome and we want to be apart of it,'" Alex Widmer said.
Alex Widmer grew up in the business. Now, he's the Director of Operations.
"The product at Petro's has evolved over time. We started with an original recipe that is chicken chili, and 90% of our entire menu is gluten-free. We also have a vegetarian chili option, vegan Petros. We have a lot of things that people don't think about when they think about chili," Widmer said.
Opening a location in Market Square is like coming full circle for the Widmer family.
"Opening in Market Square has been a desire of ours for a really long time. It’s been several years coming. When the opportunity presented itself, it just made sense to get back to where our roots are, 500 yards away at the World’s Fair is where we started," Widmer said.
The Market Square location has a different atmosphere than other Petro's. There are tables and chairs, and a large Paris Woodhulll mural of Knoxville on the wall.
"It's a little more of a fast cafe casual feel, but it's the same product and same love that we put into everything," Widmer said. "We hope to open our doors and never close them."
Petro's is located at 2 Market Square and opens to the public on Thursday, Nov. 21.