Patel Family Say They Feel At Home At Chalybeate Food Mart
Darren Doyle, story and photos:
Manish Patel, age 36, moved to the United States 10 years ago with hopes of finishing his medical degree. As a med student in India, he was told that studying in America would lead to much better opportunities.
He took that advice and moved to Missouri to finish school; however, the opportunities that came his way were as far away from the medical field as India is from the Chalybeate Food Mart. He found that he couldn't afford to stay in school and that he needed to go to work immediately. With a sister (already a successful entrepreneur) that lived in Bowling Green, he hoped he could find some help, being stuck in the United States with no money and without the ability to speak English.
Fast forward to 2014 and the Chalybeate Food Mart. He found that the store was for sale and that the previous owners (also Indian) had little-if any- success trying to run a food mart/gas station in a conservative, rural area.
"I was scared to come to rural area like Edmonson County," said Patel. "All I know was the big cities, but now, I would never go back to the big city. This community is a good example of how the country (rural) is good."
Patel bought the food mart and immediately went to work on cleaning up the place and investing back into the property, which was in dire need of a face lift. Once he reopened the store, he and his wife Nisha, worked around the clock to take care of their customers, as they do today. About a dozen folks came through the doors while this interview was being conducted and everyone was greeted by either Manish, Nisha, or both of them. The most popular phrase from Manish? "Heyyyyyy buddy!"
There are three things that Patel seemed most proud of, regarding his business, which has become a staple of the Chalybeate community: low gas prices, fresh, hot food, and a clean store with friendly, personal service.
He pulled up his daily gas price information from his supplier to show me what the price he would pay that day if he received gas.
"I only try to make a few cents on a gallon," he said. "People work hard for their money and as long as I make only a few cents, that pays for my cost. We want our customers to have a reason to stop and come inside to eat our good food and talk to us."
The food? Surprisingly good for a convenience store. Freshly prepared chicken strips, potato wedges, honey butter biscuits, cajun-style fish filets, made-to-order pizza, and other deli-type foods. The store also features several variety of breakfast biscuits in the morning.
So what makes this any different from any other food mart? That answer is up to the public, as there are many local options; however, the Patels are some of the friendliest people I've ever encountered in a retail business and they regularly give back to the community by supporting local causes, offering church and funeral discounts, and helping others that they keep anonymous.
"Let us know if your church needs food or if you are taking to a funeral. We will give you a discount. We want to help you. We are different religion, but all religions should work together to help each other and that's what we want to do."
He was also candid about his religion, which is Hindu.
"People here don't know about that and that's ok, but because of Hindu, we don't eat meat of any kind. No chicken, no beef, no fish, nothing like that. People ask me 'what does this food taste like,' and I say 'it tastes good.' Some people know I am Hindu and they ask me 'how do you know?' I tell them, everyone else says it's good and they keep buying it so it must be good!" he said with a laugh.
"I know none of our customers are our real family, but they seem like it. Everyone at school and the teachers treat my son like a friend. We love the people here in Edmonson County. We are reaching out to everyone here because we want more friends and we want to be a bigger part of this community. When we first moved here, we just wanted customers, but now we see what this place is and Edmonson County is the best."
The Patels have also built a home directly behind the store. That was what they said was the final decision made in making a long-term commitment to staying in Edmonson County.
"We think we have the best food of any place like this," he said. "And everyone loves our fish. We have a man who drives from Leitchfield just to eat our fish dinner. Everyone knows about our chicken, but people love our fish, too."
"No, I didn't finish a medical degree, but degrees are good only if you work hard. If you have a good degree but don't want to work hard then it will do you no good. Everyone can do something if you try. I start with zero, I speak no English, but I didn't give up and I become part of a good community."
Obviously Manish wants to sell you gas, fresh food, tobacco, and whatever else he has for sale, but he says he wants more friends and most importantly, feedback on how his business can provide more to the public, and more ways on how he can be an even bigger part of the community.
"I want to see your comments on this story," he said. "Even if it's bad, that's okay. We're not perfect. We make mistakes, but we want to always try to do things right. To treat people good, and if we make mistakes, we will fix for you."
During the interview, a man came inside to thank Manish for allowing him to leave his broken-down car in the parking lot overnight from the day before. The car was not in a convenient spot for the owner, nor Patel.
"Thank you for your kindness and hospitality," the unidentified man from Bowling Green said. "I don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't let me leave the car here yesterday."
"Hey, no problem buddy," said Patel as he shook his hand. Patel continued his interview with me.
"Why would I tell him to move his car? That's just another way how we can help people. If I tell him 'no, you have to move it-this is a business' he won't come back and he won't be my friend."
When asked if people have ever taken advantage of his kindness, his reply was: "Sure, that happens. But I believe if I lose money over here it's because I was too lucky some other time, or that I will have a better day in the future. I believe it all works out if you treat people good."
The store is located at 1990 Chalybeate Road, Smiths Grove, KY, 42171. You can call to place your to-go order at 270-597-8000.
You can also look for some upcoming specials at Chalybeate Food Mart on the Edmonson Voice.
You can send a friend request to Manish on Facebook, as well as check out specials and current gas prices by clicking here.
Want the Edmonson Voice to feature your business? Contact our office at 270-597-6550 during normal business hours, M-F: 8am -5pm to find out how.