The Old Country Store

A Past America at an Interstate Offramp

John Fraim

What A Wonderful World / Louis Armstrong


In the old days, actually not that old or long ago, we would often stop at Cracker Barrel (CB) along some Midwestern interstate. It was one of the few places that played on the mythology of the American farms and country. After all, the sub-headline to its Cracker Barrel brand was “The Old Country Store.” The byline always appeared in all ads and commercials for CB. The orange logo with the figure by the old cracker barrel was a sign that a little piece of Americana still existed and was accessible by a quick turn off the interstate. It was always a peaceful stop, like watching an episode of Bob Ross painting or Mr. Rogers. 

Things were slowed down in a Cracker Barrel. Almost like an episode of Twilight Zone. Nearby, cars went speeding by at 70 on the interstate. But our travels on the interstate seemed distant and forgotten when we went into a Cracker Barrel. A few minutes ago, we were on the interstate. On some vacation. Or maybe going to visit relatives. 

We were travelers on those interstates. They were the arteries of the nation carrying life between various parts of the nation. People were hurrying down them at 70 trying to make Kansas City by six and find some motel so they could get up early the next morning to Denver the next day. Our family was certainly not unique in this type of travel. There was always some destination of travel as we sped along the interstate. 

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I always had a special, feeling when we stopped at “Cracker Barrel: Old Time Country Store” along the interstate. What a powerful brand I would later think when I knew about marketing, brands and symbolism. But at the time, I didn’t realize this in that one never realizes powerful experiences the moment they occur.

All I knew was the menu was always full of a lot of comfort food like fried chicken and mashed potatoes and oversized slices of pies like grandma used to make. There were other families and young kids in the place. Yet, it really seemed a real hangout for the grandmothers and grandfathers of the world. They were not only having dinner at the place but also holding onto a fading piece of memory.

The Rainbow Colored Chair on a Cracker Barrel Porch

There was always a huge gift store full of happy ceramic figurines and special syrups and cookies.  One might be a cynic and look at Cracker Barrel attempting to squeeze every cent out of their customers as they had to pass through the huge gift shop on their way to the dining room. These days, I’m more cynical about brands but in those days I never viewed the gift store in a cynical way. Going through the gift store at a Cracker Barrel was like wandering through a museum.  American flags were not waving around the gift shop. But there was little doubt in my mind that it was a patriotic type of place. In fact, there were few symbols of American values greater for me in those years than the Cracker Barrel restaurants.

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Recently, the southern-themed Cracker Barrel has been the latest target of the anti-wokism populace after it expressed its general support for Pride as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion. On June 9th, Cracker Barrel posted a photo of a rocking chair in a rainbow colors. It was one of those rocking chairs one always sees on the porch of each Cracker Barrell. The company said they were excited to celebrate Pride Month with their employees and guests.

Social media users began criticizing Cracker Barrel. Some say they will quit patronizing the CB. One of the largest anti-woke critics of Cracker Barrel is The Texas Family Project. It is the first to step up its campaign against Cracker Barrel, tweeting an altered image of one of the CB locations with the phrase “They took this from you.” 

The first shots in the battle have been fired. The battle between the anti-woke tradition and the new woke image of Cracker Barrel. These shots have been fired before in the battle along these lines with Bud Lite. A brand under assault. Not from the economic perspective of stockholder owners of the brand. Rather, from a rated “social index” of the brand from raters of diversity, inclusion and equity.

There is a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) rating index today that rates the extent brands promote DEI and wokism. CB’s index was low for many years but with the rainbow rockers and CB’s new wokism, its DEI index has shot up. At the same time, though, I think its rating has gone down with its long-term customers. The rainbow rocker on the porch was a shot to the heart of the brand and one of the last brands holding forth the symbolism of a traditional America against the invading forces of DEI and wokism.

In effect, the new wokism of CB is another reinterpretation and definition of a brand without asking input from brand customers. A new definition of a brand imposed by management. The recent actions of CB management copy those of Bud Lite. Managers of a brand defining the brand in a very different way than users of the brand define the brand. This is a major rift in product branding today. Will this rift have an impact on stock value of the brand like the Bud Lite situation. Time will tell.

In the end, there is a certain sadness about the new wokism of Cracker Barrel. We have lost a political system that represents voters. But now we have lost brands that represent customers. Brands are increasingly chained to ideologies and social score indexes rather than consumer satisfaction.

It is sad to see this disconnect between brand and customer. But especially sad when the brand represents a symbol of an older America to those travelers speeding along the interstates of the nation, heading for some far off destination. Once, Cracker Barrel was a destination itself. An island of momentary escape from the rushing river of modern life. These days, there are fewer and fewer offramps to the modern, fast-moving “freeways” of our lives.

2 thoughts on “The Old Country Store

  1. Terrific article which captures the bookmarks of my childhood and my flyover perspective today. Thank you.

  2. Good article about Cracker Barrel. So sorry to hear about them joining the trend of some companies. It has always reminded me of the past, the country store and restaurant combined, and I usually find something to buy before leaving….You would think business people by now would know this doesn’t set well with most Americans. We want to make our own choices, not have someone push it down our throat! Barb

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