View from the Hilltop

Odus Fryman eases through the small kitchen at Fryman's Hilltop Grill, stirring a pot of homemade chili as his employees move around him in the restaurant across the street from Harrison County High School. 

After school, kids pile into the restaurant, flopping down in the booths, taking over the place. Few of them buy anything. Instead they sip Odus's free water, launch spitballs and duck outside for a smoke.

Some people would kick them out. Not him.

“They’re just kids, let ‘em have fun," says Odus, 60. "Someday they’re gonna be old.”

He is happy to be back working in Cynthiana. He spent 25 years commuting around Kentucky, working at various fast food restaurants, from Wendy's in Dry Ridge and Winchester to Taco Bells all around Lexington.

Almost 45 years ago, Odus started his career at a Cynthiana Kentucky Fried Chicken. In 2014 he bought the Hilltop from Mike Sosby, slapped his last name on the front. Odus was finally, fully home.

Relics of his past, the gray and orange booths in his dining room, were repurposed by a former owner from that same KFC. "And this floor," Odus says. "I hate the floor."

In a town like Cynthiana, the past is never far behind. Odus hops into his car to make a delivery for Anita McCarty, 67, whom he has known since they worked together at the KFC when he was still in his teens and she was just out of hers.

“I was a pup when I started there,” Odus says.

But here he is, still working, still feeding people. “I didn’t know I’d have to work this much harder at the end of my life," he says. 

"Well," he says. "I wanted my own place.”

Odus mixes coleslaw in the kitchen while a group of Harrison County students hang out in the dining room. Almost every day after school, students flock to Fryman's to hang out and kill time. There aren't a lot of other places in town for the kids to hang out, so Odus does what he can to make them feel welcome. "Odus is the coolest old man I've ever met in my life," says Devin Lewis, 17. "Hey Odus, can I work here after football's over?" "No!" Odus shoots back. "You annoy me."
One of Odus's employees wrote this note on the restaurant's back door. "One of my youngster ones, not one of my older ones," he says. Odus's effect on his employees is clear. "They’re just like family," says Kelbee Gill, 20, a longtime employee. "If I ever need anything, I know I can call him. And if he needs anything, he knows he can call me too." Kelbee has worked on and off at the HIlltop for almost as long as Odus has owned it. "This is home base in a way," he says.
Odus helps former employee Jessica Earlywine make a milkshake when she stops by for a visit. "He's a hell of a person," she says. "He was like a dad to me."
Anita McCarty, 67, thanks Odus for delivering her lunch on Thursday afternoon. When Odus started working in fast food at 17, he and Anita worked alongside each other at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Odus helps teach his newest employee, Connor Price, 16, how to sweep the empty dining room before close. Many of his employees, most younger than 21, are close friends or family of Odus, including Connor, whose father is cousins with Odus's son-in-law.
Odus locks up the store one night after closing, which he does almost every day of the week at the Hilltop. "No one stole from the safe," he jokes to his crew. "So that's good."
Odus finishes up the day's bookkeeping when he gets home around 10 o'clock on Saturday night. Usually his wife Reba is already in bed when he gets back, and at work when he wakes up, so the two try to enjoy the weekends together as much as possible. On Sundays, their three kids and seven grandkids fill the house for family dinner. It's important to Odus to set aside one day a week for the family to all get together.
Odus yawns in his chair at home after working a 12-hour day at the Hilltop. Once he finishes the bookkeeping Odus kicks back in his chair, drinks two cups of coffee, and browses Facebook before going to bed. "I would love to keep this place open because it’s a landmark," he says. "But as time goes on people want the drive-throughs and fast food. So I don't know how long I can keep it going."