Nicholasville: Lyles BBQ Opens New Restaurant Saturday
With cold Ale-8-One bottles in hand and rain falling outside, Chandler Lyles and I discussed Kentucky barbecue, issues of scale, and the challenges of locally sourced meat earlier this week as we looked out onto Nicholasville Road in Jessamine County.
All these things are on Lyles’ mind as his family’s business Lyles BBQ Company plans to open its first brick and mortar outlet after operating as a food truck for the past year. Well, not exactly a food truck, but a tent and tables set-up they transport and assemble with a military precision that shows their Air Force background.
“A year ago I never would have imagined we would be opening this place,” Lyles told me.
After doing some backyard barbecuing and catering, the Lyles family made the decision to dive in to the burgeoning Lexington food truck scene unsure of how they would be received. Now Lyles’ brisket is sold during UK basketball games at Rupp Arena—usually a sellout by tipoff—and their mobile food setup is almost always booked solid.
That’s where the issue of scale came up. “When I was doing one smoke a week I never worried about a bad outcome.” Over the past year Lyles has had to learn how to increase that smoking frequency from weekly to almost every day with no drop in quality. “We’re trying to scale backyard barbecuing.” They’ve avoided moving too fast.
“We had the opportunity to get this space six months ago, but we weren’t ready yet,” Lyles explained.
With a core menu, but always experimenting with new items, Lyles and his father Greg Lyles and mother Jennifer “Mama” Lyles—head chef—are prepared for the daily commitment of serving customers. But now, rather than going to the customers, they have to rely on the customers to come to them.
Lyles has taken a restaurant space attached to a Shell gas station and transformed it with paneling of recovered barn wood from Kenton County and locally sourced tin for the ceiling.
With no distinct barbecue tradition in the Bluegrass, Lyles says he’s free to pick and choose from the best everywhere. “We learned brisket in Texas, and pulled pork when we were in North Carolina. Our ribs are similar to Kansas City ribs.”
“The regions don’t matter. Barbecue is either smoked well or not. Then it depends on whether or not you like that particular taste profile.” Lyles slow smokes it all with locally sourced hickory wood.
Lyles BBQ makes as much of their food in-house as possible. That even included the potato bread rolls they use for their sandwiches. But in an example of managing scale, they recently began collaborating with Bluegrass Baking Company, which now makes the rolls for them using Mama Lyles’ recipe. “Jim [Betts] has been great to work with,” Lyles said. The recipe is so popular that Bluegrass Baking now sells loaves of bread from the dough at their shop.
Lyles is clearly committed to local sourcing as much as possible, but when I asked him about locally sourcing his meat he shook his head. “We looked into it, and I could tell some difference in the taste. But I would have to charge $22 for a pulled pork sandwich while making the same amount of profit. And they couldn’t even keep us supplied with the amount of brisket we need.” Lyles hopes that locally sourcing his meat will make better economic sense down the road.
In only one year, Lyles BBQ Company has come a long way. Chandler Lyles and his family is banking that their success continues in making satisfied customers.
“Our goal is to make people’s day better. The way we do that is with good food.”
The new Lyles BBQ Company restaurant is on Nicholasville Road less than 5 miles from Man o’War Boulevard. The grand opening is this Saturday, June 6, from 5-8 PM.
Lyles BBQ Company
1001 Elizabeth Street
Tuesday – Saturday: 11 AM – 8 PM (or sellout)