Eat, pay, tip and get out. So says the handwritten sign behind the cash register at legendary Casper’s Chili in downtown Springfield. Of course, it’s all in good fun but if you’re a regular to this unique Quonset hut restaurant, you know there’s also a little truth to it.
On any given day, especially when the weather’s cool, the approximately 30 seats can fill up quick with loyalists there for the chili, old-fashioned burgers and other comfort foods.
“This is really a different kind of restaurant,” said Marcie Brown, a waitress at Casper’s for nine years. “I mean, it's more like going to your family’s house. I have customers that come in like two and three times a week. So it's just not your typical restaurant — the atmosphere is different. I mean it's just totally different than any other restaurant, I believe.”
Casper's chili in downtown Springfield, Missouri.
To say the atmosphere at Casper’s is different is an understatement. The psychedelic decor screams early 1970s. Quirky photos and rare collectibles, including a family of chalk dolls, give you plenty to take in as you wait for an over-filled cup of chili. And Brown’s spunk as she moves from table-to-table-to-kitchen-to-cash register certainly adds to the unique atmosphere.
Casper’s began serving chili in Springfield in 1909, eventually at two different locations before settling on Walnut Street over three decades ago. Over that time, both locals and visitors have developed a nostalgia for the restaurant that is hard to match.
A photo of Casper's Chili founder Casper (arms crossed) hang in Casper's Chili in downtown Springfield, Missouri.
Candy Jenkins has been coming for 50 years and recently brought her three granddaughters in for some chili. “I’ve been coming in here since I was your age,” she told them as they sat down in a booth. “It looks the same to me. I hope the food tastes the same. I haven’t been in here in years. I remember they used to spill the chili over the bowl and I love it!”
Besides the chili, Brown says Casper’s has also become quite famous for their burgers — cooked on a grill more than 100-years-old.
A cup of Casper's Chili in downtown Springfield, Missouri.
“A lot more are really, really coming for the burgers,” she said. “They are old-fashioned, flattened out, greasy with crisp edges and they’re delicious.”
Casper’s also offers up its chili in a number of ways — Frito Pie, 3-Way Sghetti, Casperito and the Whammy (opened-faced burger covered with chili). Casper’s is open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.