The Untold Truth Of Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel has dotted the sides of U.S. interstates since 1969. With a loan of $40,000 (that turned a profit within a month), the restaurant's founder Danny Evins, an oil jobber from Lebanon, Tennessee, opened the first Cracker Barrel location with a gift shop attached — meaning the gift shop is just as OG as the restaurant — off Interstate 40 in his hometown. Evins had a hunch that the restaurants would be a hit among travelers looking for a pitstop food option that wasn't fast food, plus they could gas up their cars at the on-site pumps. Move over, McDonald's, Cracker Barrel and its general store bursting with novelty items was here to stay. 

Since that time, the company has opened over 650 locations in 45 states across the country. Customers love the hearty food and friendly service. Of course, despite its massive success, Cracker Barrel hasn't been drama-free all these decades.

Want to learn more? Settle in for some juicy gossip and fun facts about the family chain that even the most avid of Cracker Barrel enthusiasts might not know. This is the untold truth of the American road trip staple, Cracker Barrel.

The Cracker Barrel name has a double meaning

The term "cracker barrel" is a double entendre, but not the sexy kind. Cracker Barrel isn't just giving homage to the literal barrels of soda crackers that country stores used to sell. The actual Merriam-Webster definition of "cracker-barrel" is an adjective meaning "suggestive of the friendly homespun character of a country store." Ah yes, it all makes sense now, doesn't it?

So Cracker Barrel aimed to be a place where diners could have a cracker-barrel experience in an atmosphere adorned by barrels with crackers in them, or cracker barrels. The famous logo for the interstate staple indeed features a gent in a rocking chair leaning on a barrel full of what one can only assume are crackers. Cracker Barrel is a name that recognizes the brand's history and mission, and also one that reminds us we need more adjectives like "cracker-barrel" in our regular lexicon. 

An astounding number of Cracker Barrel rocking chairs are made each year

Cracker Barrel does not mess around when it comes to the rocking chairs decorating the patios of its many outposts. It sticks to the friendly Southern front porch theme and nothing will stop it. Southern porch aesthetic aside, the iconic rocking chairs serve another purpose: You need somewhere fun to sit because the wait time to get a table at Cracker Barrel can be quite long. 

Those rocking chairs are made for Cracker Barrel by a source in Springfield, Tennessee (so yep, even the chairs are southern). The source is the Hinkle Chair Company, a family company that has been in the furniture-making biz for eons — well, at least since their triple-great grandfather started a side hustle from his farm almost 180 years ago. The company makes about 200,000 rocking chairs a year for Cracker Barrel restaurants. You can buy chairs through Hinkle directly, but if you want the Cracker Barrel logo on your rocker, you'll need to buy it from the Cracker Barrel store for $219.99. It's nice to know Cracker Barrel is true to its roots even with the furniture, which is not only American made, but also Southern made.

#JusticeforBradsWife is now a Cracker Barrel punchline

In 2017, the firing of one Cracker Barrel employee led to legions of Internet trolls and memes poking fun at the down-home country restaurant chain. A man named Bradley Reid Byrd posted to his Facebook page that he was livid with Cracker Barrel for terminating his wife, who had been working at the restaurant for over a decade. He entrusted his Facebook followers with going to the Cracker Barrel Facebook page, calling them out, and asking "What's up with you firing our boy Brad's wife?" — or something along those lines. The Internet really delivered because from that moment on, anything the restaurant posted on its social media was lambasted with comments about Brad's wife's firing. It even birthed the hashtag #JusticeforBradsWife. Within a week, there were tons of memes inspired by the event, and offers of employment for Brad's wife, Nanette. 

There were still folks trolling Cracker Barrel's Facebook with #BradsWife jokes and memes years later. So if you see it referenced on any of the restaurant's social media, now you know — Brad's wife was a real person and her firing inspired a whole generation of meme makers.

Cracker Barrel has a strict no free food policy

Let it be known: Cracker Barrel isn't in the business of doling out gratis grub. In fact, one of their employees was fired for giving a homeless man a muffin and some condiments at a Cracker Barrel location in Venice, Florida. The worker, Joe Koblenzer, a 73-year-old military veteran, claimed the man came in asking for tartar sauce and mayo to consume with the fish he was cooking (lot of questions there but we're rolling with it), so Koblenzer obliged with some free condiments along with a corn muffin for good measure. Then the general manager of the Cracker Barrel canned Koblenzer for violating a policy that prohibits giving away free food. 

To be fair to Cracker Barrel (and Koblenzer acknowledges this, too), he had already broken some rules prior to the tartar sauce incident. So legally, if someone's had a couple of slaps on the wrist already, they are within their right to fire him. Still, Cracker Barrel does sort of come off like the bad guy for telling a worker to deny someone in need of a very minute amount of free sustenance. But them's the rules, and CB's got a business to run. It seems as though Southern hospitality only goes so far.

Cracker Barrel's biggest fans are a married couple in their 80s

You may have thought you were a Cracker Barrel super fan but you've got nothing on Wilma and Ray Yoder from Goshen, Indiana. The octogenarian couple have made it their mission to go to every Cracker Barrel in America. In August 2017, they met their goal when they hit an Oregon Cracker Barrel that was, at that time, the location that marked a grand total of 645 restaurants for the chain. 

Of course, the Yoders' goal is never really complete as Cracker Barrel continues to add more locations every year. The couple's 649th stop was in January 2018, at a new Cracker Barrel in Victorville, California, one of several California locations that had opened since they hit their unofficial last location. In May 2019, they were at "first breakfast" (a treat prior to the actual restaurant opening solely for mega fans) for a location opening in Rialto.  

Ray Yoder started hitting the restaurants over 40 years ago when he was working for a company that delivered recreational vehicles all over the country. He says the visits alleviated the tediousness of his trips. His wife Wilma started accompanying him and after three decades of the duo's treks, the chain started to acknowledge their loyalty. The company even celebrated the couple's arrival at the 645th restaurant in Oregon, giving them free aprons and a hearty welcome from the staff. Let the Yoders be a lesson — there are definitely perks to staying loyal to a brand.

Beware the Southern Fried Chicken at Cracker Barrel

If you're planning to dine at Cracker Barrel, may we not suggest the Southern Fried Chicken? Health-wise, it's easily one of the worst items on the menu. It weighs in at a whopping 1,640 calories (you better save those Weight Watchers points up for this), and has 100 grams of fat (23 of which are from saturated fat) and an astounding 4,730 milligrams of sodium — and none of those numbers even include the two sides and endless biscuits. 

And if you're dining on Sunday, watch out for the featured special — the Homestyle Chicken. The Lord's day is definitely not the heart's day in the case of Cracker Barrel. In fact, Eat This, Not That! ranks the Homestyle Chicken as one of the worst things you can order from the Cracker Barrel menu (besides, of course, the previously mentioned Southern Fried Chicken). It weighs in at 1,350 calories and 92 grams of fat.

Of course, you can order these chicken dishes if you're just dying to give them a try, but we certainly wouldn't recommend making it a weekly event. If you're going to take the plunge, maybe split the meal with your fellow Cracker Barrel patrons?

Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year at Cracker Barrel

If you're thinking, "To heck with cooking an elaborate Thanksgiving meal this year, let's take the whole fam to Cracker Barrel instead," you'd better get in line. Cracker Barrel confirmed in a press release that Thanksgiving Day is, in fact, its most jam-packed day of the year. Across the country on this feasting holiday, CB estimates that it serves 650,000 pounds of turkey and 1.1 million slices of pie. The other Thanksgiving staples it slings out in massive quantities include 8 million ounces of gravy and 1.6 million ounces of cranberry relish.

This includes carry-out turkey day meals and dine-in grub. The menu all-stars on this day are the Homestyle Turkey 'n Dressing meals served at the restaurant, but the Heat n' Serve Holiday Family Meals To-Go and Homestyle Turkey n' Dressing Family Meals To-Go are also very popular. 

Bottom line: If you plan to eat Cracker Barrel on Thanksgiving, plan accordingly. You won't be the only one.

The Cracker Barrel decor and general store preserve American history

Cracker Barrel is very deliberate with its decorations. All of the locations are full of authentic antiques and the team at CB plan the layout of each new restaurant with a lot of care. In fact, there is even a mock restaurant in the headquarters in Lebanon to lay out the decor of new locations.

General stores used to be the name of the game in the late 19th and early 20th century, when they started to exist as a solution for peddlers sick of being on the road. General stores in the countryside were nothing fancy but they did serve as a one-stop shop of a lot of your basic needs, which explains why the items for sale in the Cracker Barrel store range from Cheerwine to gospel music CDs

While the historical vibe might not be exactly what the store vibe was a century ago (they varied depending on what region of the country you were in, and today's Cracker Barrels have both Northern and Southern general store attributes), the restaurant's commitment to preserving the American country general store, with both its retail items and its decor, really serves as a living museum of American history. And that museum also happens to have some pretty legit country fried steak. 

Cracker Barrel got some bad press over a pineapple recall

Beware the pineapples at Cracker Barrel, and we're not talking about a side of fresh, tropical fruit that might be available to go with your eggs. Apparently, the decorative Driftwood Pineapples that Cracker Barrel sells in its country store are armed and dangerous. 

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall of the fruit-themed knick-knacks in 2018 because the metal "leaves" of the product were slicing people's fingers. One consumer even had to get stitches as a result of the home decor injury. Cracker Barrel offered refunds to any customers who had bought the pineapples, either online or on-site at the restaurant, between June and August 2018. While this incident was more strange than it is alarming or gross, it's never good news when the restaurant has to deal with the ramifications of a product getting the scarllet letter of the word "recall" branded onto it. 

Cracker Barrel opened a new biscuit restaurant targeted at millennials

Oh, you know Cracker Barrel was going to get in on the fast-casual movement. In 2016, the company opened Holler & Dash, the way hipper young cousin to Cracker Barrel, which was designed with the millennial generation in mind. The "biscuit house" served up breakfast, brunch, and lunch, with a titillating array of savory and sweet options. The menus varied by (Southern) city, but the vibe was decidedly minimalistic and industrial. The Holler & Dash locations were very un-Cracker Barrel-esque, because they were trying to say, "Hey, we are not a cheesy chain restaurant but this breakfast is still the, right?" — or something along those lines. 

Holler & Dash was basically the restaurant version of kids asking their parents to drop them off around the corner so they aren't seen with them (at Cracker Barrel). You know it's a millennial trap when the menu had a section labeled "Bowls." Still, props to Cracker Barrel for trying to make biscuits a novel concept.

But nothing lasts forever. By 2019, Cracker Barrel had decided to convert Holler & Dash restaurants into Maple Street Biscuit Company, a restaurant chain the company had acquired (The Tennessean).

Cracker Barrel was called out for blatant discrimination against LGBTQ employees

Cracker Barrel has a bit of a sordid reputation when it comes to progress on some hot button American issues. According to The New York Times, in 1991 there was a company-wide directive to fire any Cracker Barrel workers "whose sexual preferences fail to demonstrate normal heterosexual values." 16 employees were fired, and many claimed this was a blatant act of discrimination against gay people, which at the time was not only still legal but also sort of under-the-table tolerated at many American establishments. Cracker Barrel getting blasted for it was one of the first visible acts of push-back. 

Stockholders (the company had gone public in 1981) of Cracker Barrel organized resistance. Cracker Barrel founder Danny Evins eventually apologized and retracted the policy, but the New York City Employees Retirement System (the shareholder leading the charge) insisted he make the forbidding of discrimination explicitly official in Cracker Barrel's corporate policy. 

This was the early '90s, before social media and widespread Internet access, so we can only imagine how bad the press would be if this type of behavior by a restaurant was exposed today. Cracker Barrel got some negative attention that plagued the brand for a while, but perhaps the company has evolved, because in June 2019, Cracker Barrel was in the news for refusing to let a pastor who'd expressed anti-gay sentiments (that's putting it mildly) from holding an event at one of its restaurants.

Cracker Barrel has been repeatedly accused of racism

Cracker Barrel hasn't always been on the right side of history when it comes to race relations in America. In the early 2000s, the Justice Department accused the company of acting with racial bias on several occasions. A civil rights investigation revealed instances of mistreatment of African American patrons at Cracker Barrels across several states in the Southern region of the U.S. Employees that participated in the investigation admitted that practices such as seating African American patrons after white patrons who arrived later than them and not responding as readily to complaints from black customers about poor service were basically encouraged by management. What's the most alarming part? This was in 2004. A rep for Cracker Barrel at the time said they didn't believe the accusations, but nonetheless were going to move forward with an aggressive plan to address the complaints. 

We're not really sure how far that got them though. In 2018, Randy Freeman, an African American man and veteran of the U.S. Air Force, was at a Cracker Barrel in West Virginia and was accused by a manager of cursing at a server. Witnesses at his table confirmed no such thing had happened. Freeman took Cracker Barrel to court over the behavior, and the company is yet again dealing with some extremely negative press. Hopefully, the company is working to resolve the systematic issues that have plagued it over the years.

Cracker Barrel sparked outrage when it added an Impossible Sausage option

Cracker Barrel trades heavily in "tradition," as customers walk past old-fashioned rocking chairs and then order down-home favorites like biscuits, farm breakfasts, and fried chicken. But Cracker Barrel the company also tries to keep up with the times. In August 2022, the restaurant announced that customers would henceforth have the option of selecting the plant-based Impossible Sausage on its Build Your Breakfast menu, according to Cracker Barrel's Facebook page.

The addition was decidedly unwelcome to Cracker Barrel diehards, who, according to The Washington Post, seemingly took personal offense at the idea of vegetarian meat. Thousands responded to Cracker Barrel's Impossible Sausage post. "All the more reason to stop eating at Cracker Barrel. This is not what Cracker Barrel was to be all about," wrote one customer. "Stop with the plant based 'meat' c***," said another, while one patron lamented that "Cracker Barrel has gone WOKE!!!" The other side made their voices heard, too. "Imagine getting upset because a menu option exists at a restaurant," wrote one person, while another quipped, "Y'all can still order regular meat, you know that right?"

A Cracker Barrel spokesperson released a statement on the matter to The Washington Post. "We're always exploring opportunities to expand how our guests experience breakfast and provide choices to satisfy every taste bud — whether people want to stick with traditional favorites like bacon and sausage or are hungry for a new, nutritious plant-based option like Impossible Sausage," it read.

The first Cracker Barrel sold gas

Cracker Barrel offers many goods and services, including hot meals and sundries, capturing the vibe and business model of old-fashioned rural roadhouses and service stations. The very first Cracker Barrel fit in with that tradition, opening well outside of the town of Lebanon, Tennessee, on Highway 109, in 1969. And while today's Cracker Barrels are combination restaurants and shops (as in the adjacent Old Country Stores), that first outpost was part restaurant, part gas station. According to Cracker Barrel, founder Dan Evins wanted to open a gathering place where travelers could refuel themselves and their cars while also bringing a new sales channel for his family's oil company.

In less than 10 years, that Cracker Barrel had given rise to 12 more Cracker Barrels. By that point, it was the mid-1970s, also the era of oil embargoes, gasoline shortages, and long lines at filling stations. Cracker Barrel's response was to stop selling gas altogether. By 1977, the company was out of the fuel business and into the country store business.

Dolly Parton and Cracker Barrel just go together

In the 2010s, Cracker Barrel got into the entertainment business, producing albums to be sold primarily in its Old Country Stores via its Spotlight Music imprint. After working with Blake Shelton, Cole Swindell, and Pentatonix, the company enlisted one of the biggest musical superstars of all time in Dolly Parton.

In 2016, Parton created a deluxe edition of her album "Pure and Simple" to be sold exclusively at Cracker Barrel's outlets and on its website. Parton recorded 10 new songs for the project and hosted a season of the YouTube series "Cracker Barrel Front Porch." A Cracker Barrel-branded production even won Parton (and the restaurant chain) a Grammy, when her Pentatonix-featuring remake of her '70s hit "Jolene" took home the award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance in 2017 (according to Forbes). Parton earned an additional Grammy nomination at the 2022 ceremony for "A Holly Dolly Christmas," another Cracker Barrel project, promoted with an appearance sponsored by the restaurant at the 2020 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Why Cracker Barrel stopped selling 'Duck Dynasty' products

A&E's "Duck Dynasty" was one of the most popular series on TV in 2013, the year its Season Four premiere was watched by 11.8 million viewers, an all-time high for a cable reality show, according to The New York Times. With that success came a line of "Duck Dynasty" merchandise such as bedding, clothing, and books, much of it designed in the camouflage worn by the show's duck hunters. Customers in 2013 bought $400 million worth of "Duck Dynasty" stuff, according to Forbes, at retailers including Walmart and Cracker Barrel's Old Country Store.

With that popularity came requests by the media to interview the Robertson family depicted on "Duck Dynasty," and during a 2013 interview with GQ in which he touched on his religious and political views, Phil Robertson labeled homosexuality as a sin and equated the LGBT community with practitioners of bestiality. In response, A&E suspended Robertson from "Duck Dynasty" (per Today), and Cracker Barrel pulled much of its "Duck Dynasty" merchandise from the shelves of its Old Country Store outlets. "We removed selected products which we were concerned might offend some of our guests," Cracker Barrel said on its Facebook page (via Forbes). Then Cracker Barrel's customers weighed in, strongly opposing the situation. Less than 24 hours after removing "Duck Dynasty" items, Cracker Barrel returned them to stores. "You told us we made a mistake. And you weren't shy about it," Cracker Barrel said on Facebook (via USA Today).

What are Cracker Barrel's most popular meals?

With more than 660 outlets spread across the United States (according to the SEC), Cracker Barrel serves a lot of people a lot of food. According to the restaurant chain itself, it serves an average of 230 million guests annually (out of a total U.S. population of 335 million). And while Cracker Barrel offers an extensive menu of lunch, dinner, special occasion, beverage, dessert, and other items, its single most ordered item comes from the breakfast section: Momma's Pancake Breakfast, which comes with three hotcakes, two eggs, and bacon or sausage. That entree outsells even Cracker Barrel's number one non-breakfast dish, Chicken N' Dumplins', which customers order 13 million times a year, and is responsible for a significant chunk of the company's overall pancake and syrup volume — Cracker Barrel griddles 75 million pancakes and hands out 55 million single-serve maple syrup bottles per annum.

Over in Cracker Barrel's connected Old Country Stores, nostalgia fuels a lot of candy purchases. The shops' most popular sweets are the five-inch-long thin sticks. Customers buy and consume 13 million of them each year.

The internet had some concerns about the Cracker Barrel logo

According to The Washington Post's obituary of company founder Dan Evins, Cracker Barrel gets its name from the food storage receptacles that patrons of old-fashioned country stores would use to play checkers on. The first word in that name can also be used as an anti-white racial epithet, according to NPR, derived in part from "whip-cracker," the term for white people who used a whip on the job.

That well-known usage, combined with Cracker Barrel's commitment to glorifying old-timey rural Americana, led to the supposition that the company's name and logo were racially insensitive. In 2021, a Twitter user named @DomoDaDonn went viral with a post explaining the alternative meaning of the word cracker and suggesting that the flourish coming off of the "k" in "Cracker" that meets a similar curve in the first "r" in "Barrel" represented a whip. That subtle design amounted to, per the post, "Racism in your face!!"

Cracker Barrel's media relations department responded to the accusations with a statement to press outlets, including Heavy. "The logo of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store does not depict and has never depicted a whip," the press release read. "The part of the logo being referenced in social media posts is a flourish, which is used in the calligraphy of the logos of many brands."

The five things that every Cracker Barrel has

Across its hundreds of restaurant-and-store combination outlets across the country, every Cracker Barrel is pretty much the same. They've all got virtually the same menu and sell the same stuff in the shop. The one place where things differ a little bit is in the decoration. The walls of each and every Cracker Barrel are loaded with old signs, posters, packaging, advertising material, and equipment that evoke early 20th-century American life, particularly that of rural and Southern communities. All of it is original, vintage, and one of a kind. According to Country Living, Cracker Barrel maintains a 26,000-square warehouse of collectible Americana, and individual stores get sent stuff from the stockpile in Lebanon, Tennessee, near company headquarters.

But there are five decorative items that every Cracker Barrel simply must display, and in a specific spot. Per Cracker Barrel's corporate blog, those things are a deer head placed above the fireplace in the main dining room, a cookstove (usually found in the Old Country Store), an oxen yoke above the inside of the front doors, horseshoes hung over the outside of the front doors, and a traffic light on the wall on the way to the restrooms.

Cracker Barrel gets most of its ingredients from the U.S.

In serving up hundreds of thousands of meals each and every day, Cracker Barrel requires huge reserves of raw food materials to meet demand. According to the company website, Cracker Barrel relies heavily on domestic vendors, farmers, and food production companies for the ingredients it uses to craft country-style breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Cracker Barrel estimates that 90% of all of its ingredients are grown, produced, and sourced within the United States of America. More specifically, the company seeks out the best geographically-specific items, such as maple syrup made with real maple, bottled in Vermont, and blueberries for the blueberry pancakes harvested in Maine.

The vast majority of Cracker Barrel's kitchen stock comes from the United States, and when used by hundreds of individual restaurants, it really adds up. Each year, according to Cracker Barrel, the chain purchases 140 million bacon slices, 162 million eggs, and 13 million pounds of chicken tenders, and bakes up 210 million biscuits.