Bud Herron: Cracker Barrel has people choosing sides

Cracker Barrel — that icon of good, old-fashioned buttery biscuits with a side of cholesterol — has come out of the culture-war closet and announced it is pro-choice.

The decision — announced on the company’s Facebook page Aug. 1 — didn’t go down well (you might say was hard to swallow) for a sizable number of the restaurant’s customers.

“I just lost respect for a once great Tennessee company,” posted one customer.

“…the Cracker Barrel has gone WOKE!!! It really is the end times,” said another.

If my uncle, Jim King, was still alive, I am sure he would have been as shocked as he was in 1960 when his lifelong Democratic Party lost all sense and nominated John F. Kennedy for president. He cast his first Republican vote that year, declaring the election of a Roman Catholic to the presidency would be the end of American democracy.

Back in the mid-1970s — when Cracker Barrel restaurants were first blooming across the South — Uncle Jim and Aunt Helen adopted the restaurant as their eatery of choice any time they drove through Dixie. On the way to visit my sister’s family in Florida, they scouted out motel locations near the restaurants and refused to stay anywhere more than a few miles from gravy over buttermilk biscuits each morning.

According to a recent story in The Washington Post, this is not the first time Cracker Barrel would have disappointed Uncle Jim (although the newspaper did not mention him by name).

The Post noted that back in 1991, a leaked memo from the restaurant’s corporate management to employees said any worker whose “sexual preferences failed to demonstrate normal heterosexual values” would be fired. Likely to Jim’s dismay, the company later walked back the threat, saying, “It only makes good business sense to continue employing those folks.”

Then 25 years ago, after Jim died, Cracker Barrel was the defendant in numerous lawsuits — accused of discrimination against African Americans in hiring.

Those suits were settled. Then in 2004 the United States Department of Justice said it found evidence in seven states that managers and servers were segregating white and black customers in seating and providing inferior service to the African Americans.

Cracker Barrel settled that suit out of court and agreed to a five-year consent decree in which it admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to “enhance training programs” to prevent such practices — maintaining it “has long had policies banning discrimination.”

Now comes what my uncle likely would have seen as the end of our world as we have known it — a move by his beloved restaurant chain away from rock-solid American values into rule by the “effete liberal snobs” Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, warned about.

Pro-choice has become the announced future of Cracker Barrel breakfasts. Impossible sausage patties — a phony, plant-based meat substitute — will soon be on the menu as an option to the pork sausage God gave humankind (or, as Jim would have corrected, “mankind”).

To be fair, not all Cracker Barrel customers side with Jim on the issue.

The newspaper article points out several customers posted congratulations on the website, welcoming the chain “to the 21st Century.”

Another post said, “Imagine getting upset because a menu option exists at a restaurant. Relax, Trumpers.”

Posthumously, Jim has no way to tell us whether he would have quit eating at Cracker Barrel because of the “Impossible Sausage.” Still, I suspect he would have shown up for breakfast, as usual.

As a 6-foot 6-inch, 270-pound man, who in his youth was once an amateur boxer, Jim would have loved the possibility of a good culture-war fist fight along with his meal.

Bud Herron is a retired editor and newspaper publisher who lives in Columbus. He served as publisher of The Republic from 1998 to 2007. Contact him at [email protected]