Phillip’s Market brings ‘bare bones’ style to students near campus

Phillip’s Market owner Gordon Bentley stands between the kitchen and front counter of Phillip’s Market on Monday, Sept. 7, 2018, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Cook Out is the go-to place for hungry college kids on a budget. But UK students may want to put another restaurant on their radar that’s closer to campus and just as cheap, if not cheaper.

Phillip’s Market has been nestled right off UK’s campus since 1980. Located between Prince Hookah Lounge and Cuts on Lime, the business has held its niche for all these years, watching as the campus changed over time. Compared to UK’s campus, walking into Phillip’s Market is like walking into a time machine.

Though “market” is in the name, customers won’t find any barrels of colorful farm-fresh produce. Instead, they’ll find a business a little worse for wear but nonetheless charming– a privately-held establishment that’s older than most of its customers.

Gordon Bentley has been the owner of Phillip’s Market since he took over after the death of the founder, who first started the business in 1959. He had worked on and off part-time for the business since 1972 before he took over to try to keep the business running.

Many businesses surrounding UK have seen the same struggle to stay afloat. Prior to 1980, Phillip’s Market could depend on neighborhood families to provide a customer base. Once the ‘80s hit, UK started buying up the nearby property, converting most of the civilian neighborhoods into student housing. When summer comes around and students leave town, customer profit plummets. However, for Phillip’s Market to still be standing after all this time means something is obviously working. It may be small, but it’s resilient.

“It’s so far so good with it,” Bentley said.

Customers might be surprised to find out just how spacious Phillip’s Market is compared to its facade. The store can be divided into two sections: the front and back. The front has its own tables, the checkout counter, a few shelves of pre-packaged snacks and row upon row of cigarettes. The back, which has its own entrance, is the kitchen. Here, customers can pick up their cold grocery items, like cheese, meats and soda, and order off an extensive menu.

Phillip’s Market’s food selection is so large that there are four separate menu boards, with numerous options for breakfast and lunch. For just $5.10, customers can get a breakfast platter of two eggs, two pieces of toast, four strips of bacon and gravy. For lunch they could grab a quarter-pound hamburger for $1.70. Or for those that want to mix it up, there is gyro fries, meatloaf or gumbo. However, the market’s best seller by far is the $7.49 catfish sandwich, macaroni and fries platter.

Kisha Kendrick is the head cook at Phillip’s Market. Alongside her in the kitchen is her father, Gary Kendrick. Kisha originally started working at the market nine years ago to be be close to home and her kids. She worked her way up from stocking the coolers to running the food scene full-time. Gary followed seven years later after suffering from a stroke. Now the duo caters to hungry students, making this business truly family-friendly.

Gary said his favorite part about working at Phillip’s Market is meeting people of “all kinds.”

One of the market’s loyal customers happens to be a close neighbor. Samuel Wesley, a fifth year senior civil engineering major, lives in the apartment above Phillip’s Market and frequents the store at least twice a week. His order: chicken biscuits for breakfast and a buffalo chicken sandwich for lunch, all for less than $6.

“I don’t have a lot of overhead. That’s one of the reasons I can keep the prices low on the food stuff,” Bentley said. “One of our competitive things would be the price, I think.”

Bentley believes it’s the “bare bones” style of the market that has kept it going for so long, compared to the more aesthetically pleasing businesses that keep closing. Although he’d like to “upscale” the place with WiFi for students and more counter space, he said he believes the business is doing just fine the way it is. The only thing he and the Kendricks wish for is more students to walk through the door.