Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is truly an all-American restaurant chain, and a fixture along America’s highways. It has more than 600 locations in 42 states, so it’s just about impossible to drive for an extended period of time and not encounter one. But we bet that there are a lot of things you didn’t know about this down-home destination.
Dan Evins was tasked with finding creative ways to improve gasoline sales while working as a sales representative for Shell Oil, and the idea for Cracker Barrel came out of that. All early locations featured Shell gasoline pumps on-site, and they weren’t phased out entirely until decades later.
Cracker Barrel sells a lot of country music CDs, so it’s only natural that the company would partner with some country stars. They’ve entered into exclusive release deals with stars including Charlie Daniels, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Alan Jackson, Alabama, and Alison Krauss.
After about a dozen employees were fired in 1991, word got out that a company memo advised managers to fire employees if they didn’t display "normal heterosexual values." The company ended this policy after demonstrations from gay rights groups, but it wasn’t until 2002 that the company added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.
Lawsuits have also been filed by both former employees and guests claiming that they had been racially discriminated against. In 2004, an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department found that the chain had been segregating dining rooms by race, giving white customers priority over black customers, and allowing white servers to refuse to serve black customers.
The company has taken strides since then to improve its image, and has come a long way: the non-discrimination policy is on display in every restaurant, minorities make up about a quarter of its employees and 11 percent of its management and executives, and the CEO, Sandra Cochran, is only the second woman to hold that position in a Tennessee-based publicly traded company.
Ever wonder why there’s also a Cracker Barrel brand of cheese in your local supermarket? Kraft, its parent company, which has sold cheese under that brand since 1954, has taken a “live and let live” approach to this issue — but sued the restaurant chain recently to put an end to a 2012 deal that would have brought meat products branded by Cracker Barrel restaurants to grocery store shelves. The two compromised, and the products are now sold under the “CB” brand name.
The chain supports charities and causes in the communities in which its restaurants are located, and was very active in supporting recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and in Nashville after flooding in 2010. It also provides support to employees through the Cracker Barrel Cares organization, has partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project, and provides an annual scholarship through the National Black MBA Association.
The vast majority of restaurant chains, from McDonald’s to Applebee’s, are upfront about their nutrition information, generally posting them right on their websites. Cracker Barrel doesn’t, however, simply saying “Cracker Barrel certainly understands the health-conscious concerns that some of our guests have,” before directing visitors to websites that may or may not feature select nutrition info, like weightwatchers.com.