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A hostess opens the front door of the new Chili’s Grill & Bar on Wednesday at Sasebo Naval Base.

A hostess opens the front door of the new Chili’s Grill & Bar on Wednesday at Sasebo Naval Base. (Travis J. Tritten / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — It was a long time coming, but Chili’s Grill & Bar finally opened to a lunchtime crowd here Wednesday.

After years of delay that included waiting for an approval by Congress, base residents were ushered through the front doors of the newly remodeled space at the Galaxies building for heaping plates of America-style food.

The franchise has proved popular at such larger installations as Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, and Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. A Chili’s is scheduled to open on Yokota Air Base, Japan, in August. And the new Sasebo eatery is a welcome addition to the on-base fast-food restaurants here, residents said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Dora Jones, one of the first customers seated, said she had been waiting to eat at the Chili’s since 2005, when she first arrived at Sasebo and heard the restaurant was in the works.

“It makes a big difference, because everybody got tired of eating the same old food,” said Jones, who ordered a chicken-and-shrimp entrée.

The Tex-Mex-influenced restaurant, which has a staff of 130, was still working out kinks on Wednesday. The large lunch crowd slowed down the kitchen, and unsteady servers were training in pairs.

In 2007, the Yokosuka franchise was forced to close and rework its staffing plan when it attracted 1,000 customers per day during its first week.

Sasebo Morale, Welfare and Recreation and its private franchise partner took note of the Yokosuka fiasco and prepared for large crowds, including opening the restaurant to test customers last week, according to MWR director Scott Poluhowich.

Poluhowich said the project, which started as an empty parking garage, took about eight years.

Though the garage renovation was relatively small by military standards, at $1.75 million the project hit the spending threshold that called for congressional authorization.

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