Cracker Barrel gets ahead by holding onto a bit of the past

Cracker Barrel PorchBIZMOLOGY — Cracker Barrel‘s revenue has been strong and steady in recent fiscal years. Last year the restaurant chain brought in almost $2.6 billion in revenue, up from the roughly $2.4 billion it reported for both fiscal 2010 and 2011. The company’s commitment to delivering a familiar dining experience has helped Cracker Barrel weather the economic storm of recent years.

While most casual dining chains have developed around a theme in order to distinguish themselves from the crowd, few take it to the extreme like Cracker Barrel. Every location features a retail area where patrons can buy hand-blown glassware, cast iron cookware, and other crafts, as well as jellies and old-fashioned candies. The interior decor features advertisements and product packaging hearkening back to the early 1900s, and each eatery features a front porch complete with rocking chairs. That hardcore appeal to nostalgia has earned the chain a distinct presence in the family dining segment as well as a loyal following.

Dan Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel Old Country Store in Lebanon, Tennessee, in 1969. As a sales representative for Shell Oil, Evins believed he could sell more gas if he combined gas stations with restaurants. He also envisioned placing his new concept along what was then a relatively new enterprise — the interstate highway system.

The company now owns and operates more than 620 of its flagship restaurants known for their country kitsch, rustic decor, and down-home cooking. Most of the restaurants are found along interstate highways and target hungry travelers. The eateries, located in more than 40 states with a concentration in the Midwest and Southeast, offer mostly standard American fare, such as chicken, ham, and roast beef dishes. The restaurants are most popular as breakfast spots.

Cracker Barrel has been able to maintain the look and feel of its restaurants thanks in part to the fact that it has not relied on franchising to expand its chain. The company considers its restaurants “museums” of Americana. Cracker Barrel continues to develop new locations almost exclusively along interstate highways in its core markets.

Along the nation’s highways, the company competes with other national family chains including IHOP (owned by DineEquity) and Denny’s. In the company’s core Southeastern markets, Cracker Barrel faces competition from regional favorite Waffle House.

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Photo by Susan Marsh used under a Creative Commons license.

 

 

Michael McLellan

Michael McLellan covers the business of restaurants, marketing, media, technology, sports, and more for D&B and Hoover's. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin's Radio-Television-Film program. Follow him on Twitter.

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