Around the turn of the century, when much of Kansas City was thriving amidst the Kansas City Stock Exchange and developments of JC Nichols, Vergne Dixon set up shop downtown selling his unique style chili from a street cart. In 1919 Vergne opened his first restaurant on 15th and Olive. His dream was to produce a quality product with fast service. Dixon’s Chili Parlor, as it was originally named, was staffed solely by men, most of whom were down on their luck and looking for a chance to better themselves. Since then, Dixon’s has been family owned and operated, passed down from generation to generation with the same belief of serving high-quality food with quick service. Vergne was such a believer in his particular type of chili that he banned the use of ketchup in his restaurant, even when customers tried to add it.
In 1961 Vergne’s nephew, Leonard Totta (2nd generation), took over the family business. He expanded to a second location on 40 Hwy in Independence. Although Leonard agreed with the integrity of the product, he decided to allow ketchup in the restaurant for his customers, as long as they paid the 15 cent fine. This tradition is still carried out today.
Harry S. Truman was a frequent Dixon’s customer before, during, and after his presidency. He was once recorded saying, “There is nothing more I’d rather have, than a spread at Dixon’s Chili.” After one particular visit in 1952, alongside many Secret Service agents, Life Magazine published a story about his patronage. This coined the term, “Dixon’s Famous Chili.” He continued his patronage for the remainder of his life. Just like our 33rd president, Dixon’s has become a cornerstone of Independence, Missouri.
In 1985, Terri Totta (3rd generation), was fortunate enough to take over the family business. Over the years, many family members have played a major role in our success. My brothers, Vincent, Lonnie, and Mike have contributed to helping our uncle’s vision remain as genuine and authentic as it was 100 years ago. My husband, Dan Smith, has been a constant support to me as I’ve taken on the family business. All of my children (4th generation), Jessica Steffes, Julie and husband Jake Masena, and my son Stephen Steffes, as well as his wife, Anne, have worked hard at Dixon’s throughout the years, with much pride and commitment. Stephen has now taken over as General Manager. I am very proud and honored that my son has chosen to step in and continue the legacy of Dixon’s chili with the same quality and service that my great uncle envisioned so many years ago. My granddaughter, Jordan (5th generation), along with her husband Wyatt, is the 5th generation to work at the restaurant. A reputation for serving great food with incredible service has been our family tradition for over 100 years and we look forward to serving you for many more.
We’d like to thank you for your loyal service, and for helping us operate as the longest-running family-owned business in Kansas City.