The Eastern Kentucky Chili Bun Trail: Eaton’s Handi Mart

The Eastern Kentucky Chili Bun Trail by RL Reeves Jr

Mitchell’s Market of Barbourville, Kentucky folded its doors years ago but the family’s legacy is still writ large on the Eastern Kentucky Chili Bun Trail. The Mitchell family originally opened their tiny grocery and butcher shop in downtown Barbourville in 1929.

That concern would have a nigh 80 year run before shuttering in 2008 as downtown Barbourville slowly turned into a ghost town. No matter, by then offshoot Mitchell Foods had already been in operation for nearly a decade providing frozen food service products to quick marts across Appalachia.

Eaton’s Handi Mart
3801-5199 KY-26
Corbin, Kentucky

“Y’all making the chili from scratch?” I’ve just walked into Eaton’s Handi Mart, six miles south of the burgeoning Appalachian town of Corbin. “Naw honey, we use Mitchell’s”

I’m starving and in dire need of a chili bun so I place my order and ramble around the well-stocked store for a minute while I wait on the counter lady to fix my lunch.

Eaton’s is a classic old-fashioned country market where you can get a ‘baby chick starter’ for $16.50, a salt block for your cows for right at ten bucks or a pound of pickle loaf for $5.19.

Need a spool of bailing twine for your haybaler? They’ve got that too.

The al fresco dining area at Eaton’s Handi Mart near Corbin Kentucky

Unfortunately they don’t have homemade chili but Mitchell’s will do in a pinch. A soft, white flour hot dog bun has been generously filled with chili meat, mustard, and chopped white onions. The chili is a fine grind beef with pork and a bit of textured vegetable protein thrown in for good measure. Dominant flavor? Tomato puree.

Not every country market has a little granny woman plying her trade in the chili game. Nowadays when you get your fried baloney biscuit from a gas-n-go on Heifer Creek that clerk hustling around behind the counter probably defrosted most of your food early that morning.

Change has come to the foodways of Appalachia

Eaton’s Handi Mart
3801-5199 KY-26
Corbin, Kentucky

A chili bun with a side of Grippos potato chips is a classic eastern Kentucky meal


About RL Reeves Jr

I'm a writer living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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24 Responses to The Eastern Kentucky Chili Bun Trail: Eaton’s Handi Mart

  1. Michelle says:

    Love Eaton’s. They make some of the best sandwiches around, too.

  2. JAMES HELTON says:

    They Have much better food and better prices than most places Old man eaton is a good old guy its worth the trip just to talk to him and the biscut and gravy is amazing

  3. Buck says:

    If chili isn’t your thing then try his sausage biscuits too!

  4. Dinsh says:

    His breakfast food is pretty great, too. And he’s a hoot with the kids.

  5. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I wish I could’ve met him

  6. debbie miracle says:

    Eaton’s is the Best Country Store that I know of, Gleason is One In A Million!! Funny and Kind 😉 I do A Lot of My Shopping there from Food, Cigarettes, Dog Food and So Much More… Great Prices…Great People…and Yes, Great Breakfast Biscuits and Hot Dogs! I have a store within half a mile of my house but I Always drive the extra miles to go to Eaton’s!!

  7. RL Reeves Jr says:

    This article is about to set a record

  8. Wilma white says:

    I love Eaton’s .love their sandwiches and hotdogs.I love the friendliest of them .we drive there out of the way if we think he Chas what we need instead of going to hardware store.

  9. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I’ll be getting a sausage from there on my next visit

  10. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I will

  11. Brenda smith says:

    Eatons is great !Gleason , makes a sandwich anyone would want . You definitely won’t be hungry. He has all his clerks to make these hardy sandwiches as well. And yes, the hotdogs are delicious ?

  12. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I should probably interview him

  13. Danny Fore says:

    Our Grandson Skyler lives on Eatons bologna. He thinks it’s the only ‘real’ bologna. The store is truly one of a kind and so is Gleason. He has fed alot of people and an asset to our community.

  14. Darrell says:

    Gleason has never met a stranger, ask him about his horse trading days, a very good fellow.

  15. Kelli Paul says:

    Me Eaton has always been good to everyone. He used to give me the best deals in town. There is nothing like a good bologna sandwich with fresh tomato and mayo on a hot summers day. Thanks me Eaton for being so kind.

  16. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I will, thanks for the tip

  17. RL Reeves Jr says:

    As long as the baloney is fried I’m down

  18. Jamie says:

    You need to go back and meet him, nicest person you’ll ever meet.

  19. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I will, looking forward to it. rl

  20. Tina says:

    I love going there he always has a joke when I go in he is in it for the people not a buck and that is what makes him and his store a great thing

  21. Josh says:

    If you stand in front of the Moorish house you posted in street view, swing around 170 degrees to your right. The tall ornate building is the once Masonic Lodge. My employer of 21 years now, Ball State, now operates the structure. It has been renamed Cornerstone Center for the Arts. I once lived in a four unit building one block over from the Moorish house, back to the east about 6 blocks. I never had any problems, but my younger brothers car was stolen right out of our parking lot, never to be seen again. It was a 1987 Buick Grand National my Dad bought new when he was an engineer with General Motors. I”m very familiar with the Kimbrough district as well as the old west end. I don”t foresee personally living in either area again, I”m much happier in the small town a little to the NW, but still a lifelong Delaware County resident. I own 3 houses with my wife here. Another town in the same County with several Victorians is Eaton. In this area, you will likely find what you”re looking for there, without the four lane one way streets, & more of a small town feel. There are several Queens with towers and turrets in Eaton, none in Gaston still standing, only some turn of century larger structures and few really nice ones. 0

  22. RL Reeves Jr says:

    Muncie Indiana?

  23. Zack Mitchell says:

    Stop on by our store in Barbourville, where we still make, it next time you’re in the area! We’ll load you up with some Mitchell’s Chili Mix to take back!

  24. RL Reeves Jr says:

    I’ll do it. Thanks, rl

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