Early Briefing: 50 Years of Ben's

*It was 1996, and Nizam Ali had just gotten his law degree. Instead of heading to the courtroom, he had another idea: He wanted to help run the family business.

(Jacquelyn Martin-AP)

Ali told his father, Ben, that if he couldn't double the revenue at Ben's Chili Bowl within a year, he'd fall back on that legal career. To meet his goal, he went well beyond the walls of the landmark restaurant on U Street NW. He became a promoter, visiting radio stations with free hot dogs, hamburgers and half-smokes -- all covered in Ben's trademark spicy chili. Radio personalities talked up the food, and the legend of the Chili Bowl grew.

Sales grew so much so that Ben and his wife, Virginia, decided to step back and leave the restaurant they had founded in the hands of their sons. This week, the District's most famous neighborhood diner turns 50.

*Shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac tumbled more than 20 percent yesterday, hitting their lowest levels in nearly two decades, as investors fled out of fear that a government initiative to save the ailing mortgage giants could render their stock worthless.

The stock sell-off came a day after Freddie Mac was forced to pay an unusually high interest rate on five-year notes to entice investors to purchase its debt.

While the companies continue to insist that their fundamental finances are sound, investor confidence in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has taken a pounding this week as speculation about a federal government bailout has gained pace in the news media and among market analysts.

*Government auditors denied Lockheed Martin's protest of a $1.16 billion Navy contract to develop unmanned aircraft that can patrol coastlines and open ocean because its proposal was deemed riskier than the other bids, according to details released yesterday. Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman beat out Lockheed Martin of Bethesda and Chicago-based Boeing in April to develop a plane for the Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance -- or BAMS -- program. The contract could ultimately be worth billions based on the Navy's plans to buy 68 planes.

The Australian government, which has invested in the BAMS development program through a $15 million agreement with the U.S. Navy, is also expected to become a major customer.

*Sunrise Senior Living added two independent directors to its board this week. Glyn Aeppel, 49, executive vice president of acquisitions and development of Loews Hotels, and David Fuente, 62, former chairman and chief executive of Office Depot, assumed their new positions Monday for the McLean-based nursing-home company.

*Cobham, the world's biggest maker of airborne-refueling gear, agreed to buy GMS, a designer and manufacturer of digital equipment, from Allied Defense Group of Vienna for $26 million in cash. The acquisition of is expected to be completed by the end of 2008, said Cobham, based in Wimborne, England.

*ManTech International said it won a two-year U.S. Army contract worth up to $820 million to help clear roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. ManTech of Fairfax said it will provide workforce management, parts analysis and field logistics to remove improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

*A former lawyer for Dominion Virginia Power who was appointed to a commission that oversees utilities has said he will not participate in deliberations over a 65-mile power line proposed by the company.

James C. Dimitri, appointed to the three-judge State Corporation Commission last week, had represented Dominion earlier this year at commission hearings over the power line, which is to stretch between Frederick County, Va., and Loudoun County. Opponents of the line had said his appointment was a conflict of interest.

Dimitri told the commission Tuesday that he would recuse himself from the case, a commission spokesman said. The other two commission judges have asked a retired judge to join them in reviewing the case and rendering a final decision, the spokesman said.

*Military contractor General Dynamics said the U.S. Army ordered 62 cannons for use on its eight-wheel Stryker combat vehicles in a deal potentially worth $326.5 million. The contract for the Mobile Gun System, which features a vehicle-mounted "shoot-on-the-move" cannon, carries an initial payment of $145 million.

By Terri Rupar  |  August 21, 2008; 5:00 AM ET  | Category:  Morning Brief
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