Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. is a US restaurant chain that was started in 1969 with a number of gas stations that expanded to include restaurants and a country store for their customers. When the success of the restaurants eclipsed the gas station they stopped selling gas and focused on food. Founder Dan Evins did not want to create a fast food restaurant, but the kind of place he imagined in the not too distant past, where people could sit down and eat familiar southern cuisine in a friendly atmosphere. The business soon became very popular, expanded quickly, and became a public company in 1981.
To ensure a reliable product, the menu as well as the restaurant’s physical appearance were standardized so every Cracker Barrel feels eerily familiar. They share the same layout, a gift store by the entrance that funnels guests to a greeter station which is the entrance to the dining room. The whole interior is decorated with carefully selected authentic American antiques. The highlight is the functioning fireplace with mantelpiece, above which is always an old fashioned shotgun and deer head. Emanating from these two objects, with less regularity, are photographic or painted family and group portraits, landscape paintings, maybe a radio, a fan, snow shoes and other objects that one might have found in a rural general store. All the objects come from a stocked warehouse located at the company’s 90 acre compound in Lebanon, Tennessee which houses over 90,000 artifacts. Designers physically arrange the antiques on walls inside mock restaurants that are then photographed before being dismantled and sent to each new location for installation.
Even though the chain is located across the United States and filled with historical objects, there are only occasional references to the actual locality. Each restaurant replicates an imaginary “local place” that is both inviting and disorienting. The company’s success relies on resolving the conflict between corporate standardization and a southern regional nostalgia. There are now over 600 Cracker Barrels in 42 US states.
Andrea Robbins and Max Becher 2014