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Cracker Barrel's decor as enticing as its food
Mar 15, 2013 4:04 pm
As anyone familiar with Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurants knows, one of the best parts of eating there is looking at all the unique "old-timey" items that crowd the walls.
The decorations range from old photos and paintings to old farm implements and medicine bottles.
Larry Singleton is the decor warehouse manager at the Cracker Barrel corporate headquarters in Lebanon, and he is a man who appears to love his job.
He is the person who chooses items to be considered for the stores, a job he inherited from his parents. They were the owners of a Lebanon antique store and were tapped by Cracker Barrel founders to come up with items to recreate the feel of an old country store for the first store from the Lebanon-based company.
"I went to flea markets with mom and dad," he said. "I met a lot of antique dealers."
The corporate headquarters has an entire warehouse building devoted to storing the old and unique items needed to complete the theme for new stores, or change the decor in older ones. Looking like something out of the Indiana Jones movie, where the government stores the Ark in a seemingly endless warehouse, the Cracker Barrel stash of the old and unique could keep a collector busy for days.
"They are things used years ago," Singleton said. "They are designed to be like old county stores that provided whatever you needed - farm equipment, food and all the local gossip."
Those things include old signs, wooden snow skis, old medicine boxes and bottles, old cosmetics, farm implements or anything else that evokes the past. The items aren't always in the best of shape when they enter the warehouse, but they are when they are sent out to stores.
"Almost everything has something done to it – cleaned, preserved, painted, welded or sandblasted. This stuff comes out of old buildings and barns," Singleton said. "Some pieces are old, and some are valuable. My parents bought an old Coca-Cola banner from 1915."
The warehouse is the ultimate in recycling with the everyday items from the past becoming conservation starters for modern customers at the restaurants.
Designers place more than 950 original artifacts in every Cracker Barrel Old Country Store location. More than 475,000 artifacts are currently displayed in more than 600 Cracker Barrel locations in 42 states. Smaller similar items are placed in shadowboxes.
Singleton and his crew select items, some of which need to be refurbished, painted and/or repaired at the warehouse. Then they stage the items to see how they will fit in a store.
When all of the 900 artifacts are selected and placed, designers photograph each wall to show where the items will be placed when the shipment arrives at the new location. Designers later travel to the new location to install the items. The photographs help them remember where to place the items.
"We've laid out the complete store and where everything goes," Singleton said.
Among his favorite items in the warehouse is a portable pantry used by homemakers headed west who still had to cook for their families even if they were traveling by, and living in, a wagon. The pantry could store and distribute flour, grind coffee and has room for spices. Singleton estimated the pantry is circa-1890s.
"It was in a store for a while, and we got it back," he said.
Asked if he had the best job ever, Singleton answered "just about." He said he and his seven-person crew enjoy the work.
"It is a fun job," he said. "They get to be as creative as they can possibly be."