BETH NICOLAY dedicated 31 years to raising her five children. Originally from Ohio, Nicolay dined at the Barrelhouse BBQ in Lynchburg while visiting her oldest daughter and grandchildren five years ago. That’s where she met the owner, Chuck Baker, and their lives changed forever. One year later, Nicolay moved to Tennessee, and the two have been together ever since.
Baker opened a second restaurant called Barrelhouse BBQ II at the Nearest Green Distillery. While traveling one day, they came across the boarded-up Halls Mill Market in Shelbyville. Originally built in 1920 as a feed store, the market was deeply rooted in Bedford County history. “It’s such a cute building,” said Nicolay. “I felt bad it was just sitting empty. We weren’t looking for a new business to open, but God has shown us time and time again that He has plans for us. So we follow. We bought the building, adjacent land, and boat ramp on the Duck River. We reopened Halls Mill Market along with Lucky Duck River Rentals in June 2022.”
For over 100 years, the market has served as a gathering place for neighbors. “The mill is long gone, but the families that gathered on the front porch are still here and eat with us daily. One of mine and Chuck’s favorite things about Halls Mill Market is listening to the stories told about fishing on the river, gathering to whittle and sip a cold RC Cola, or nibbling on a thick slice of bologna with crackers. This store has had many owners over the years, but one thing hasn’t changed: the people and their love for their home.”
Nicolay infused the market with keepsakes from her own family. Satisfied guests ring the bell from her father, Nick’s, boat before leaving. Her mother’s hutch overflows with knick-knacks gifted to Nicolay and Baker from their customers. Nicolay refurbished the dining room tables herself, and upon entering the market, their morning cook, Brandi, selects a mug from the coffee tree as if every guest is family. “We always choose a mug that best suits our customer while pouring their coffee. Our regulars have their own cups they drink from every day. We have a cute little table in the back of the restaurant for kids and games on our shelves for families to play rather than watch their phones. Chef Chris has a handle-bar mustache, so we have a basket full of felt mustaches for the kids to wear. We always take their pictures and will have a yearbook this Christmas highlighting all the great mustache photos.”
Halls Mill Market’s down-home, welcoming atmosphere is a nod to simpler times, but its menu is anything but dated. Nicolay said they are best known for their signature burgers, such as the Ring of Fire that chef Chris created, which is hot and spicy and delivered to customers while Johnny Cash plays over the radio. They also offer a Swifty sandwich, named after Taylor Swift, crafted from freshly battered fried chicken tenders topped with ranch, bacon, and cheddar cheese on a toasted kaiser bun. “Bread is everything. It’s all high quality and always, always toasted. No mushy buns at Halls Mill Market! Everything we make is fresh. Sauces are homemade, and as much as possible, we locally source our ingredients.”
Nicolay said a lightbulb went off when a local deputy pushed back from the table and said, ‘Now that’s a doggone good salad.’ She now serves the Doggone Good Salad in a stainless steel dog bowl with grilled chicken, cheese, onions, and tomatoes and topped with dog bone shaped croutons. They make their Bedford Burger from freshly ground beef chef Chris grills to perfection. It’s smothered with candied bacon, a thick slab of white cheddar, slathered with their house-made pepper jelly, and topped with a crispy bun.
“We may be off the beaten path, but we are worth a visit. There are not many places left that make you feel so at home. You can put your phones away and enjoy great food, conversation, and the atmosphere,” said Nicolay. “You feel the history when you walk in. People sit at tables with strangers and honestly become friends! It’s a little slice of heaven on the Duck River — the most biologically diverse river in North America.”
“Chuck and I wish our staff and customers a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy New Year! We ask that everyone remember those less fortunate and take a moment to share what they can with their neighbors this holiday season.” GN