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Flashback Fridays: 41 Years of ‘The Last’ Chili Cookoff

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In Texas, Chili is taken pretty seriously.  There will always be the debate—beans or no beans, onions or no onions, spicy or mild, and the list goes on.  Despite your preference, you’ll find a little of it all at Southwest’s Annual Chili Cookoff. The irony is that the event that was only expected to happen once has now grown to be one of our longest-lived Culture traditions!  In fact, the Southwest Chili Cookoff is one of the longest running annual Chili Cookoffs in the world! As for the “X and Last Chili Cookoff” naming tradition, that has a sobering story in itself.  Flashback to 1973, when Southwest faced serious financial struggles.  That year, the famous “$13 Fare War” was born when Braniff offered half-price tickets from Dallas to Houston, Southwest’s most profitable route.  The Fare War caused quite a stir, and despite our Employees’ hard work and enthusiasm, they were in check with the reality that we may not be around the following year.  Well, we did survive, and more than that, we conquered to now become America’s largest domestic airline, but, the Cookoff’s title of “X and Last…” stuck, and remains as a reminder that nothing can be taken for granted. Since a picture speaks a thousand words, we’ll let these photos tell the rich history of Chili Cookoffs throughout the years:
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This photo is from our “First and Last” Chili Cookoff in 1973. Southwest Cofounder, Rollin King, was one of the judges that year and is pictured near the center of the photo wearing a white hat and dark jacket. Pictured to the right are Provisioning Employees Ken Hargrove (currently our Amarillo Station Manager), and Steve Spurrier. The gentleman at the far left of the photo, Hondo Grouch, was another Chili Cookoff judge that year; he was a Texas legend and known as “the Ambassador from Luckenbach, Texas.” Also pictured on the left are two more judges, Charlie and Gordon Fowler, sons of the Texas Chili legend, Wick Fowler.
Pictured is Sandra Bogan during a Chili Cookoff in 1978.  She is an original Employee and one of our very first Flight Attendants.
Pictured is Sandra Bogan during a Chili Cookoff in 1978. She is an original Employee and one of our very first Flight Attendants.
The above photo is from our Chili Cookoff in 1979.  Several of the Chili Cookoffs during the ‘70s seemed to have had a “Western theme.”  Pictured is Diana (last name unknown), who was a Flight Attendant, and later, a Manager in the Inflight Department.  She also became one of our Southwest LUV Couples as she married Captain Fred Hines shortly before we opened our PHX base.
The above photo is from our Chili Cookoff in 1979. Several of the Chili Cookoffs during the ‘70s seemed to have had a “Western theme.” Pictured is Diana (last name unknown), who was a Flight Attendant, and later, a Manager in the Inflight Department. She also became one of our Southwest LUV Couples as she married Captain Fred Hines shortly before we opened our PHX base.
Pictured is original Employee, Sherry Phelps, with her husband and son in 1980.  Sherry worked in the Executive Office.
Pictured is original Employee, Sherry Phelps, with her husband and son in 1980. Sherry worked in the Executive Office.
Also from 1980, pictured on the left is Sandra Force, another of our original Flight Attendants.  The gentleman is Marketing Employee Rich Robertson who came up with the idea to start the Chili Cookoff!
Also from 1980, pictured on the left is Sandra Force, another of our original Flight Attendants. The gentleman is Marketing Employee Rich Robertson who came up with the idea to start the Chili Cookoff!
 Fast forward to 1991(and color photos!).  This, of course, is Herb being adorned (and adored) by a group of female Employees.
Fast forward to 1991(and color photos!). This, of course, is Herb being adorned (and adored) by a group of female Employees.
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At the 1994 Chili Cookoff, Southwest and Morris Air Pilots presented Herb with a Harley Davidson Heritage Softail. The motorcycle is now on display at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas.
Last year, we hit a milestone when we celebrated “the 40th and Last Chili Cookoff.”  As always, the friendly competition ran hot, and Departments and groups came together to continue the tradition and to cook their version of the best Texas Chili. With the help of our Employees, we’ll continue to grow this great tradition and have several years of “last” Chili Cookoffs to come!