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The Secret History Inside of Cracker Barrel

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 3, 2023 3:02 am

The Secret History Inside of Cracker Barrel

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 3, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, with its classic “old country” theme, Cracker Barrel has been an American favorite for many decades. But many people don’t know that the decor you find on the walls and throughout the stores are all authentic pieces of American history. Joe Stewart, the decor manager of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, brings us the story!

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Lee Habeeb

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Turn on easy mode at or call your local travel advisor to get started. We're back with our American Stories. Cracker Barrel has been an American favorite for many decades. With its classic old country theme, there are currently over 660 stores throughout the country, the first one having been born in Lebanon, Tennessee.

But many people don't know that the decor you find on the walls and all throughout the restaurant are unique and authentic antique items that have been handpicked for each store. Here to tell the story of how the idea of this restaurant came to be is Joe Stewart, the decor manager of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. Dan Evans was the founder of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. The spot that was determined where the Cracker Barrel was going to be built, him and some contractors actually used a stick and kind of drawed it out in the dirt back in 1969.

The interstate was expanding and there was really no place for people to have a relaxing time to get off the interstate or a place to eat. So he had a vision to build an old country store to meet that need. The name Cracker Barrel came from where crackers were sold in a barrel. You know, there was a lot of things back in the day that were sold in barrels like pickles, candy, different things. The cool thing about the Cracker Barrel is that once the crackers were emptied, it was usually flipped over and a checkerboard was usually placed on top, the reason that we have a checkerboard in our stores. The first store actually opened on September 19, 1969, and it was located off of I-40, the interstate here on Highway 109 in Lebanon.

So that was kind of how it was born. There was actually a couple in town who had an antique store. Their names were Don and Kathleen Singleton. Their son's name was Larry Singleton.

And around that time in 1969, Larry was probably around 12 years old and he used to go hunting and picking and buying different things with his parents. So Danny asked them if they would supply some decor for the first store, which was right up their alley since that's what they did. You know, they specialize in vintage retro antique items.

Our store was always built on a mission of pleasing people with not just a great meal, but, you know, serving the guests with warmth. You know, the old country store theme is just scattered throughout our building about, you know, what used to happen in an old country store about, you know, the conversations that was had, the things that were on the wall, the things that we sell. There's a lot of different stuff in Cracker Barrel.

You name it, a country store had it. So that's kind of how we built our decor around. So in a country store, you could find toys, you could find farming equipment, hunting equipment, sporting equipment. There was jewelry.

Candy is one real big thing. The vintage metal signs, things like that. So it's more about trying to put together designs with, you know, everything and anything a country store would sell. We have a 26,000 square foot warehouse, and it is full. It's got about 100,000 pieces in it currently. And it's full of just everything you can possibly imagine that's related to a country store. So there's a process people don't realize, but there's a process to this decor from procuring it to installing. 99.9% of all the decor that we have in the stores and currently in our warehouse was bought by the Singletons.

You know, they got this role naturally because that's what they did for a living. When Don and Kathleen could no longer do purchasing and whenever they retired, their son Larry kind of took over. So he took over probably around 1984, 85 from his mom and dad. So I started in 1989. And the fun part about starting in 1989 was that Larry Singleton took me under his wing. So the first three weeks I was working here, him and I went to shows went to a lot of flea markets and tea shows. And he gave me the first hand knowledge of what to look for how to buy.

There was one particular event that happened probably in the mid 90s. Larry and I went to an advertising auction up in Cleveland, Ohio, and there was multiple, multiple items for sale. And the auctioneer wound up putting Larry into each bid automatically because Larry was buying so many things. Well, everybody was coming to me because I was loading everything, asking if they could purchase a sign, you know, or get one of these because that's why they came to the auction.

Well, of course, you know, I said no. And, you know, we're buying for Cracker Barrel. They're going to be used in Cracker Barrel stores. But the one thing about that is that everybody that asked if they could buy a sign wound up becoming a vendor that sells to Cracker Barrel. So our warehouse is pretty expansive. So we have quite a few pieces. And the fun thing about doing an individual Cracker Barrel is researching the area that we're going to and trying to find the pieces that are in our warehouse that fit that area.

And you come across some interesting facts and finds in some of the towns that you're going to. Fort Payne, Alabama. When you research Fort Payne, even to this day, it'll say it's the sock capital of the world. So Fort Payne, Alabama had factories there that produced probably about half the world's socks back in the 1900s. So in that store, since that was called the sock capital of the world, we thought that in one particular spot of that store, we should design it with socks, with clothing, with knitting machines, sock stretchers. Bakersfield, California was a recent store that we opened.

Bakersfield, California, when you do the research, it says it's the second birthplace of country music. It's where they introduced the electric guitar. So there's one wall dedicated to nothing but music. There's country music ads advertising and there's a shadow box with an electric guitar. So that's kind of how we do our decor. That's how we choose.

That's how we install. I travel a little bit and I go to Cracker Barrel and it's always really fun to notice that the people, when they sit down, they start pointing to our decor. And I've even heard them, you know, ask each other, you know, what is this piece?

What did it used to do? So there's a lot of conversation to be had with our decor. We had a tendency not to, you know, give anything away or sell our decor. And it's still true today.

We do not sell any of our decor. But I guess I've got a soft spot for people's family stories. It happened not too long ago where there was a sign in one of our Wisconsin stores and it was the name of it was Peeler's Farm. And it had a man's name on there of David Chapman. An 18 year old son was I think he was actually hunting in Wisconsin and he saw this sign and knew that that was his grandfather. So he showed a picture to his grandfather. His grandfather said, yeah, I used to work at that farm.

That was the one I ran. It was a dairy farm in North Carolina. So he contacted me several times and wanted to know if we know what he could do to get this sign for his grandfather. And it happened to be that his grandfather was ill, was sick. So I thought that this should probably be something that comes back to this family because it was him. They had pictures that they showed me of whenever this man was in the business of the dairy farm.

So it all worked out about six months later that I met three generations of this family. They came to the warehouse to get the sign and the stories they had were absolutely amazing. It's becoming interesting about what people are seeing and what they're finding out there.

There's a few calls on occasion where people are saying this is my grandmother's birth certificate or their grandmother's diploma or even their picture. So that old country store, that relaxed atmosphere and the sense of nostalgia was something where we felt that guests would make them feel at home. And it's wonderful that I see a lot of people have conversations about things that are on the wall.

I don't think much has changed. Our mission was pleasing people. Having that place to come in off an interstate exit, to have a good meal, to see things on the wall that remind them of a simpler time. Or remind them of something that they did as a child. I'm partial to toys. So I try to buy as many toys as possible because I think everybody was a kid at some point, right? So they see a toy on the wall and it kind of reminds them of their childhood. One time someone told me that they thought that each store was a mini museum of American history. Which kind of resonated with me because, you know, some of that's probably true in a sense.

So I think that the concept is still alive. Make life easy with endless eats, bottomless drinks, and never-ending fun. So booking an all-inclusive vacation should be easy too, right? That's where Apple Vacations comes in. Book your all-inclusive getaway with Apple Vacations and receive exclusive perks at select resorts. You'll find the best deals to sun and sand destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. And enjoy a selection of exclusive non-stop vacation flights.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-03 04:46:27 / 2023-04-03 04:51:14 / 5

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