What Cracker Barrel Doesn't Want Its Customers To Know

Cracker Barrel hat hanging
Cracker Barrel hat hanging - Bloomberg/Getty Images

Cracker Barrel was founded in Tennessee in 1969 and carved a niche for itself by producing hearty, Southern fare. What was once a niche is now a nationwide empire; Statista reports that there are currently 661 Cracker Barrel establishments in the United States, spanning 45 states. All of these establishments source many of their ingredients from producers based in the U.S. What's more, the brand also makes many of its products including gravy, mashed potatoes, and biscuits in-house every day.

While there are several aspects of Cracker Barrel that call for celebration, there are many things the business would rather its customers didn't know. Unfortunately, the majority of these are related to discriminatory actions that have targeted both customers and employees. Although the company has made appearances of trying to right some of these wrongs, many people feel that Cracker Barrel is not the homely, welcoming business it presents itself as.

Read more: The Ultimate Ranking Of The Best Fried Chicken Chains

Cracker Barrel Fired LGBTQ+ Staff During The 1990s

Cracker Barrel's rainbow rocking chair
Cracker Barrel's rainbow rocking chair - Cracker Barrel Old Country Store/Facebook

In 1991, Cracker Barrel introduced a policy that prevented members of the LGBTQ+ community from being hired. Not only did this policy prevent new LGBTQ+ staff from working at the company, but it also resulted in several active employees losing their jobs due to their sexuality.

The policy was rescinded a few weeks after being introduced. In a statement recorded by The New York Times, Cracker Barrel said: "Our recent position on the employment of homosexuals in a limited number of stores may have been a well-intentioned overreaction to the perceived values of our customers and their comfort levels with these individuals."

Since this time, Cracker Barrel has implemented various training schemes focused on diversity and inclusion. The company also claims to have a zero-tolerance policy on LGBTQ discrimination and harassment. This policy was tested when Grayson Fritts, an extreme anti-LGBTQ+ Tennessee pastor, attempted to hold a meeting at one of its restaurants. Cracker Barrel refused to host him.

In 2022, Human Rights Campaign, an organization that campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights, awarded Cracker Barrel a score of 80 out of 100 in its annual Corporate Equality Index. Although Cracker Barrel celebrates this score, it is important to note that 842 of the 1,271 reviewed businesses received a perfect score of 100. The score indicates that the business is improving, but also that LGBTQ+ employees are still not treated in the manner that they should be.

Cracker Barrel Has Mistreated Black Customers And Employees

Cracker Barrel cashier serving customer
Cracker Barrel cashier serving customer - Bloomberg/Getty Images

It is not just the LGBTQ+ community that Cracker Barrel has a history of discriminating against, but ethnic minorities too. This came to light in 2004 when the Department of Justice settled a case against Cracker Barrel for discriminating against Black customers.

Entrenched, racist acts such as allowing white servers to refuse service to Black customers and segregating customers by race were revealed after the DOJ investigated 50 Cracker Barrel restaurants. As a result of the settlement, Cracker Barrel was forced to adopt new policies and procedures to prevent discrimination from taking place.

At a similar time, approximately 12 Cracker Barrel employees claimed that Black employees were segregated from white employees and were often given non-customer-facing roles. The company paid $8.7 million to settle all allegations.

Unfortunately, the steps Cracker Barrel took to ensure racist practices were discontinued did not prove sufficient. In 2018, Randy Freeman, a Black bus company owner and operator, was kicked out of a Cracker Barrel in front of his passengers for simply ordering food. Cracker Barrel managers falsely claimed he was being aggressive. Furthermore, a former Cracker Barrel employee revealed in a TikTok video that Cracker Barrel employees refer to Black customers by the code word 'Canadians.'

Cracker Barrel claims its diversity training reaches employees throughout its company. It has also created a Diversity Council which aims to develop diverse leaders and management. However, the plethora of allegations suggests these actions are insufficient.

It Has Been Criticized For Inappropriate Décor

Cracker Barrel storefront
Cracker Barrel storefront - Helen89/Getty Images

A key part of Cracker Barrel's identity is the décor that covers the walls and ceilings of its restaurants. This eclectic décor has been a part of all Cracker Barrel restaurants since 1969 and consists mainly of antique memorabilia; each location has unique pieces that are designed to reflect the area the restaurant is located.

In 2020, a customer called Tamra Hawkins visited a Cracker Barrel in East Windsor, Connecticut, and took a video of the ceiling. In this video, what looks like a noose can be seen hanging from the ceiling. After public outcry, the offending item was removed from the store.

That same year saw Cracker Barrel conduct a company-wide review of décor in establishments across the country. The result of this examination was a multi-million dollar redecorating plan that encompassed every Cracker Barrel establishment in the United States. This was undertaken in an effort to create Cracker Barrel restaurants into spaces that were welcoming to all. Cracker Barrel is particularly focused on introducing memorabilia that reflects Black American history.

Cracker Barrel Fired An Employee For Giving A Muffin To A Person In Need

Cracker Barrel corn muffin
Cracker Barrel corn muffin - uloverye/X, formerly known as Twitter

Cracker Barrel once again made headlines after it fired an employee called Joe Koblenzer. Koblenzer was let go in 2014 after managers discovered he had given a man condiments and a corn muffin free of charge. Koblenzer highlighted that the man was in need and quite possibly homeless. However, this did little to allay Cracker Barrel's management and Koblenzer was let go soon after.

In a statement recorded by Fox News Cracker Barrel said: "He [Koblenzer] violated the Company's policies regarding consuming food without paying or giving away free food, on five separate occasions. Mr. Koblenzer received multiple counselings and written warnings reminding him about the company's policies and the consequences associated with violating them."

Although it was rooted in company policy, Cracker Barrel's decision to fire Koblenzer was not a popular one. Over 5,500 people signed a petition demanding that Koblenzer be rehired. Articles concerning Koblenzer's firing were published by newspapers around the world including those in the United Kingdom and Australia.

Cracker Barrel Did A U-Turn During The Duck Dynasty Scandal

Phil Robertson talking
Phil Robertson talking - Ben Jackson/Getty Images

"Duck Dynasty" was a reality TV program that aired for 11 seasons between 2012 and 2017. The show was about a Louisiana-based hunting business run by the Robertson family. The show gained a huge viewership in the United States. As a result, many collaboration and sponsorship opportunities came the Robertsons' way. One such collaboration was with Cracker Barrel. The company agreed to stock Duck Dynasty merchandise in the stores that adjoin all Cracker Barrel restaurants.

During an interview with GQ in 2013, the family's patriarch Phil Robertson made several anti-gay comments. In response, Cracker Barrel announced that it would pull some of the Duck Dynasty merchandise from its stores. Protests ensued and not 48 hours after it had made its original announcement, Cracker Barrel backtracked. In a post shared on Facebook Cracker Barrel said: "When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers [...] we apologize for offending you."

Some Of The Dishes Are Incredibly Unhealthy

Fried pickles at Cracker Barrel
Fried pickles at Cracker Barrel - NW_Indiana_Eats/X, formerly known as Twitter

Cracker Barrel is known for serving hearty Southern food. While satiating, this style of food is not known for being the healthiest and Cracker Barrel's menu reflects this featuring several dishes that are loaded with fat and salt. One of these is the Sunday Homestyle Chicken BLT. Registered dietician Kelly Springer described how unhealthy this dish is to Eat This, Not That!: "It provides over half of the average recommended calories at 1,180, almost all of your recommended fat at 60 grams, 13 grams of saturated fat, and 29 grams of sugar. Not to mention the 2,560 mg of sodium, which is higher than the recommended daily value of 2,300."

The unhealthiest dish on Cracker Barrel's entire menu is the Southern Fried Chicken. By itself, this dish contains 1,640 calories, 100 grams of fat, and 4,730 milligrams of sodium. What's more, some of Cracker Barrel's sides are also dangerously unhealthy; a portion of the brand's Country Fried Pickles contains 3,440 milligrams of sodium, 56 grams of fat, and 880 calories.

That being said, it is possible to eat relatively healthily at Cracker Barrel. Dishes like grilled pork chops and steaks, steamed vegetables, and house salads all give diners the ability to dine without exceeding their daily recommended intake of salt, fat, or calories.

A Customer Was Served A Glass Of Chemical Cleaner

Glass of water on table
Glass of water on table - Xesai/Getty Images

In April 2014, William Cronnon had finished eating his meal at Cracker Barrel when a server refilled his glass with what she believed to be water. Unfortunately, the waitress had picked up one of the unmarked water servers that was being used to soak and clean the water machine. As a result, Cronnon ingested a mixture of water and Eco-San, a sanitizing liquid. Cronnon was taken to the emergency room and developed gastrointestinal issues shortly after. These included bloating, cramping, and reflux pain.

Cronnon took Cracker Barrel to court and was awarded $4.3 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. In a statement sent to CNN, Cracker Barrel said: "While we have great respect for the legal process, we are obviously disappointed by and strongly disagree with the jury's award in this case, which involved an unfortunate and isolated incident."

One Cracker Barrel Restaurant Caused Several Salmonella Outbreaks

Cracker Barrel sign
Cracker Barrel sign - Jetcityimage/Getty Images

Salmonella Mbandaka is a bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses in humans. Symptoms of Salmonella poisoning include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. In extreme cases, some people require hospitalization.

The first case of Salmonella Mbandaka poisoning in Kalamazoo, Michigan was in 2008, but officials did not become aware of the Salmonella outbreak until 2012. It took until 2018 for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to begin investigating a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Texas Township as the possible source of the infection. Initial samples taken from the restaurant showed Salmonella Mbandaka present in the cooking, food preparation, dishwashing, and storage areas. Several employees tested positive for the bacteria although they did not demonstrate symptoms.

Cracker Barrel voluntarily closed the store during May and June for a kitchen remodel. In early November the dish room was also upgraded. However, the Salmonella outbreak persisted and the company voluntarily closed the store at the end of November.

In a statement shared with MLive Cracker Barrel said: "Despite the extraordinary efforts made to eradicate the presence of this strain in the store environment, we couldn't get comfortable that we could prevent a reoccurrence and therefore we have made the very difficult decision to close the Kalamazoo location effective immediately." It is believed the restaurant was responsible for 35 cases of Salmonella Mbandaka infection altogether. These took place between 2008 and 2019.

Cracker Barrel Has Been Accused Of Underpaying Staff

Cracker Barrel employee talking
Cracker Barrel employee talking - Cracker Barrel Old Country Store/YouTube

In 2021, a collective action lawsuit was filed against Cracker Barrel by a number of staff who alleged they had been illegally underpaid. The lawsuit stated that Cracker Barrel violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by illegally applying a tip credit to servers' wages.

A tip credit allows employers to credit a portion of a server's tips towards their wage, reducing the amount the company has to spend. In Cracker Barrel's case, this action was illegal as servers were forced to spend more than 20% of their time working on non-tipped jobs like cleaning the soda machines. What's more, employees were not correctly reimbursed for additional work that took place outside of their regular hours.

To make matters even worse, Cracker Barrel employees allege that they were forced to perform a greater proportion of non-tipped work during the Coronavirus pandemic. This led to the employees effectively working more for less money during this difficult period. Although the case was filed in 2021, it is still ongoing.

The Company Has Been Heavily Criticized By Its Shareholders

Sardar Biglari with his employees
Sardar Biglari with his employees - SteaknShake/X, formerly known as Twitter

Nearly 50% of all available Cracker Barrel shares are owned by five investment firms. With so much money invested in the company, it is unsurprising that the chairs of these firms have strong opinions on how the business should be run. What's surprising is how strongly and frequently one of these chairs, Sardar Biglari, has criticized Cracker Barrel's management.

Biglari is the chairman of Bilgari Capital LLC which currently holds 9.03% of Cracker Barrel's stock. Over the years, Bilgari has used his position as a major investor to criticize the company. In 2013, Biglari demanded the company be sold. In an open statement summarizing his views, Biglari claimed that Cracker Barrel's management was dismal and resulted in the company suboptimizing its value. He used the Duck Dynasty scandal as an example of the management's poor practices.

Another attack came in 2019 when Biglari called for the company to abandon its fast casual dining concept Holler & Dash. He claimed it was destined to fail, but the company originally ignored Biglari's advice. The sub-chain shuttered in 2020 with all sites being replaced by Maple Street Biscuit Company restaurants, a brand that Cracker Barrel acquired in 2019.

More recently, Biglari criticized Cracker Barrel management for lagging behind its competitors. He said the company had been consistently losing customers and had failed to return to pre-Covid levels. In this statement, he called for CEO Sandra Cochran to be replaced. Cochran retired in 2023.

Inedible Items Have Been Found In The Food On Multiple Occasions

Staple in scrambled eggs
Staple in scrambled eggs - lawronin/Instagram

In 2007, Cracker Barrel was forced to pull burgers from 313 stores after a woman called Irene Grann cut her mouth while eating one at a Cracker Barrel in Myrtle Beach. Upon inspection, the restaurant manager found pieces of razor blade embedded in the hamburger patty. This caused all burgers produced by Cargill Meat Solutions -- Cracker Barrel's main supplier -- to be removed from the company's restaurants.

When interviewed, Mark Klein, a spokesman for Cargill's meat businesses said to NBC News: "We're working to gather the information needed to come to a solid conclusion in this matter. No one should be jumping to conclusions until the investigation is concluded." Grann was taken to hospital but did not require stitches.

More recently, rapper Kodak Black shared an image of his meal at Cracker Barrel on social media. A metal staple is clearly visible in his scrambled eggs. Bradford Cohen, Kodak Black's long-term lawyer, shared the image on his Instagram and stated that he expected a call from Cracker Barrel to settle the matter.

There Have Been Multiple Instances Of Sexual Harassment At Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel store
Cracker Barrel store - Bloomberg/Getty Images

Multiple instances of sexual harassment have taken place at Cracker Barrel establishments. Several of these were perpetrated by male members of staff, including managers, and targeted female employees.

In 2006, the company was ordered to pay $2 million in damages to 51 employees who had been the recipients of sexual and racial harassment in three Cracker Barrel restaurants in Illinois. The harassment included sexual comments and unsolicited touching. Management took little to no action when employees reported the abuse.

A similar case was brought against Cracker Barrel in 2009, this time at one of its Tennessee locations. Here, female employees were repeatedly targeted with a slew of sexual jokes from male employees and management. What's more, some of the women who reported this behavior were punished. The women received a $255,000 payout.

In its Labor and Human Rights Policy, Cracker Barrel states that it is dedicated to maintaining workplaces that are free of sexual harassment. However, more recent sexual harassment cases, including one filed by a server who was only 18 years old, suggest that Cracker Barrel's training and policy are far from sufficient.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.