The Shelby Cobra and Chili’s Have the Same Daddy

The old legend of King Midas is still widely known and referenced to this day. In case you didn’t know, King Midas was a Phrygian King that was said to have the ability to turn whatever he touched to gold. While, of course, this is not literally possible, there are people in our own world that we can see certain similarities with Midas. Take Carroll Shelby, for instance. Everything that dude seemed to do, he excelled at, whether racing professionally or designing multiple iconic cars like the Shelby Mustang or the Shelby Cobra or even creating the fast-casual restaurant chain, Chili’s. 

Carroll Shelby did more than build and rip around in the Shelby Cobra

Carroll Shelby is not only one of the most famous names in racing history, but he is also one of the most interesting. What makes Shelby so damn cool is that he didn’t just race. In fact, Racing is only one of the very many things Shelby dabbled in throughout his life. As most car nerds know, he didn’t just race; he designed two of the most iconic racing and road cars of all time; the Shelby Mustang and the Shelby Cobra. The Cobra would eventually win Le Mans, a towering feat for an American racing team

A blue and white Shelby Cobra Roadster
Shelby Cobra Roadster | ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

Shelby had multiple other interests and even lives outside of the race track and Ford factory. He was famously also a chicken farmer, and maybe less famously, very into food, chili in particular. As reported by The Drive, Shelby had the opportunity to get involved in the food business, and since he loved food and was a social guy, the idea of opening a restaurant really struck a chord with him. 

Carroll Shelby helped start Chili’s 

As noted by The Drive, Shelby was in the tiny town of Terlingua, Texas, where he and his friends would often go spend the weekend hunting, fishing, cooking, and probably doing some insane burnouts. One of the friends who would often roll with Shelby was a Ford PR man named Tom Tierney. Eventually, Shelby buys 200,000 acres near the microscopic Texas Town, wherein 1967, the first organized chili cookoff was held. 

Florida, Orlando, Chili's Grill & Bar, restaurant neon sign
Chili’s Grill & Bar | Getty images

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According to The Drive, this love of all things Chili led Shelby to start selling his own line of chili seasonings in 1972. The chili cook-off that started at Shelby’s ranch inspired his son-in-law, Larry Levine, who attended the events and loved them, to set out to open a similarly-themed restaurant based on Shelby’s favorite vacation spot. 

Levin wanted to build a restaurant that embodied the spirit of the ranch with good food, friends, and some beer. He approached Shelby with the idea, and Shelby, not to let an opportunity pass him by, provided the start-up funds to get the chili-themed restaurant off the ground. That money went to build the first Chili’s in 1975 in Dallas, Texas. 

Racer turned foodie

Shelby inspired the idea, provided the seed money, and went so far as to help design and plan out the menu. Shelby also put his interior design skills to work and designed the look of the restaurant. Chili’s would eventually become one of the most successful fast-casual restaurants in the U.S., along with most everything else Shelby put his hands on. 

The man was very much a King Midas type. From racing to car brands, restaurants to farming, Carroll Shelby wasn’t just a great driver or car designer; he was just great. Full stop.