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 (as of May 2019). 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. According to Southern Living, Cracker Barrel isn't just giving homage to the literal barrels of soda crackers it used to have available for purchase in the country stores at each restaurant. 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 "signature Cracker Barrel Old Country medallion" on your rocker, you'll need to buy it from the Cracker Barrel store for $170. 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. 

As of July of 2019, there are still folks trolling Cracker Barrel's Facebook with #BradsWife jokes and memes. 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, their most jam-packed day on 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 this 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 Scarlet 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" serves up breakfast, brunch, and lunch, with a titillating array of savory and sweet options. The menus vary by (southern) city, but the vibe is decidedly minimalistic and industrial. The Holler & Dash locations are very un-Cracker Barrel-esque, because they're trying to say, "Hey, we are not a cheesy chain restaurant but this breakfast is still the bomb.com, right?" — or something along those lines. 

Holler & Dash is 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 has a section labeled "Bowls." While the fate of the Holler & Dash spin-off is unknown for the long-term, props to Cracker Barrel for trying to make biscuits a novel concept.

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. 

Stock holders (the company had gone public in 1981) for 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 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 the company.