Cracker Barrel Founder Dan Evins Dies At 76

Dan "Danny" W. Evins, founder and chairman emeritus of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., died Saturday in Lebanon, Tenn., the company said.

He was 76. The cause of death was not reported.

Evins expanded his family's gas station operation on Highway 109 in Lebanon with a restaurant selling "country cooking" and a small gift shop in 1969.

His vision of how the new interstate highway system would create a market for serving the traveler, bolstered by his personal style and operational savvy, proved astute. The publicly traded company that sprang from those beginnings today operates 608 family-dining restaurants in 42 states and employs 67,000 people.

After serving as the company's chief executive from 1969 to 2001, and as chairman of the board through 2004, Evins retired and became the company's chairman emeritus and a member of the Cracker Barrel founders board.

"Danny was the keeper of this special brand for so many, many years and he left us with a strong culture that values quality and honesty. He will be missed deeply," Michael Woodhouse, Cracker Barrel executive chairman, said in a statement.

Sandra B. Cochran, Cracker Barrel president and chief executive, said, "Cracker Barrel has remained true to Danny's vision in many ways, including the insistence on quality products at a fair price, and on genuine Southern hospitality."

"How Danny thought about his guests and his business from the beginning is captured in 'Pleasing People,' our mission statement," she added.

Cracker Barrel officials characterized Evins as an innovator, citing his development of the company's "Personal Achievement Responsibility" training initiative that increased benefits for employees as they progress through the program and his insistence that it develop computer-based-training programs years before they became popular throughout the restaurant industry.

Evins has said he was inspired to name his restaurant-gift shop concept Cracker Barrel Old Country Store to recall the country stores of his youth in rural Tennessee where people played checkers atop of empty cracker barrels and caught up on local developments.

But Evins also looked to the future and continuously considered the guest experience, as exemplified by his idea to create Cracker Barrel's popular books-on-audio program, company officials indicated. That program allows guests to purchase a book-on-audio at one location and then return it to any other location and get a new book-on-audio for only a nominal exchange fee.

"I first met Danny when I joined Cracker Barrel in 1995 and knew immediately what a rare individual he was," Woodhouse said. "Danny was a straight shooter and dedicated to authenticity. It was an honor and a responsibility that I took seriously to follow Danny as CEO, and then as chairman when he retired."

Evins is survived by five children and 13 grandchildren. A Cracker Barrel representative said the family was planning a private memorial service.

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