The end of days is coming early at the Bon Ton Mini Mart. The only sign of change hangs on the RC Cola soda fountain. On September 1st, 2012 customers will no longer be allowed to smoke indoors. What with the apocalypse scheduled for November, it would seem forgiving to permit a postprandial cigarette or two. But pesky journalists keep visiting for the fried chicken and writing fawning reviews. If press junkets are any indication of future success, the Bon Ton can expect their current trickle of tourists to grow into a mighty stream. The barbaric presence of second-hand smoke cannot be tolerated.
I stopped by exactly eleven days before the grand finale. Monday lunch leaves a long week ahead, and a table of construction workers enjoyed smokes after slices of coconut pie. I worked on my half-chicken undisturbed. The fried crust, saturated with grease and spice, overwhelmed the aroma of fine Virginian tobacco, pesticides, formaldehyde, and human sweat. The marinated white meat—the juiciest flesh of any breast I have yet tasted—distracted me from the leering grimace of a camel or a cowboy or whatever is the official mascot of evil now in America. Contrary to cliché, Kentucky smells like cow, not horse. On the drive to Lexington, the lingering smack of fat on my lips, mingling with dung and cud, bothered me more than the occasional whiff of Marlboro.
We can only ask, what is next for the Bon Ton? It has already topped numerous “Best Fried Chicken” charts. (No doubt a consequence of judicious borrowing between editorial departments at your favorite publications. After all, how many aspiring food writers have been to “the top 19 fried chicken monuments across America” and shot TasteSpottable photos, too? Cross-pollination is the easiest way to populate a web-exclusive slideshow.) I suspect a gift shop. Currently, customers exit into a gravel parking lot. For such an esteemed eatery, a titan of its class, media darling, icon of all that is good and right about Main Street and mid-America, anything less than magnets, custom beer koozies, and bumper stickers is a failure.