There’s a lot to take in when you walk into a Cracker Barrel Country Store. From the cast iron skillets to the large wood-burning fireplace to the hundreds of memorabilia and artifacts adorning the walls. It all comes together to create a one-of-a-kind experience to make you feel right at home.
It might surprise you to discover that all those pieces hanging on the walls of your local Cracker Barrel are handpicked and there for a reason. They are all a part of a story. That local community’s story, and when you stop in for a meal with us, you’re invited to share in that story.
For over 40 years, we’ve been collecting treasures. 700,000 unique pieces grace the walls of our Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores across the nation. Our décor warehouse in Lebanon, TN, has over 100,000 pieces of authentic Americana, and it’s still growing. It’s an amazing sight to behold and a fascinating process of how we get from empty walls to a fully decorated Country Store.
Come on in and get a look inside our décor warehouse. I’ll be your tour guide for the remainder of this blog post.
Meet the Singletons
When our founder Dan Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel in 1969, he had a vision for it to have a general store type of atmosphere. In order to do this, he turned to local antique store owners Don and Kathleen Singleton. As more and more Cracker Barrel locations began to open, the Singletons would eventually join the team as full-time designers.
When Kathleen fell ill in 1979, their son Larry stepped up to take on the treasure hunting responsibilities. By now, there were 19 Cracker Barrel locations. Larry would learn the ropes from his father, visiting flea markets and auctions across the country, slowing building a network and making a name for himself.
Eventually, dealers and collectors would reach out to him when they had items they wanted to sell individually or in bulk. Selling in bulk would become very advantageous, especially when more Cracker Barrel locations would be on the horizon and need décor.
In the early days, the Singletons would store their finds in their grandparent’s bedroom. But they quickly outgrew that, and eventually, it would all move into its own designated space. A 26,000 square-foot décor warehouse nestled right in our Lebanon, TN corporate headquarters.
For over 39 years, Larry Singleton would be Cracker Barrel’s chief picker until he retired in 2019. His predecessor, Joe Stewart, who worked alongside Larry for over 33 years, is now serving as Cracker Barrel’s décor manager.
Our Own History Museum
The décor warehouse is literally a treasure trove of nostalgic riches with many items long obsolete. Unique finds ranging from butter churns, farming tools, sports equipment, vintage signs, nickel soft-drink machines, portraits, instruments, and so much more.
When you enter the warehouse, you’ll likely see a 1926 Model T, nicknamed “Ole Lightening,” which once stood in front of the Sweetwater, Tennessee store. Larry Singleton drove this around the Atlanta Motor Speedway before one of the Cracker Barrel 500 races in the mid-1990s.
What’s the oldest piece of décor we’ve acquired? How about a portable pantry that dates back to 1860! This piece was used to store various things like flour, sugar, matches, and coffee for people in the community to buy by the cupful. Almost like a mobile general store. (Pretty cool, right?)
Or how about the most unique piece of decor? This vintage Coca-Cola heavy canvas dates back to the early 1900s. This was around the time when Coca-Cola was almost considered a patent medicine and was believed to contain “ecgonine,” a precursor to cocaine in the drink recipe. (Ironically, the slogan on the banner says, “pure and helpful.”) The trademark symbol is also at the end of the first word, which is not where it is usually located.
The banner is not referenced in any collectors’ books which makes this banner an ultra-rare and highly unique Cracker Barrel find with an enlightening history.
New arrivals to the décor warehouse are cleaned, prepped, and cataloged and are kept on the shelves until they are pulled and sent to stores. Each piece of décor has its own 6-digit barcode and is categorized by type. For example, all the guitars are in one place while the baby carriages have their own section. This makes it easy for Joe and his team to find and replace items in inventory.
Getting All the Décor
How do we continue to get more antiques? It’s all about who you know! Maintaining good relationships, reaching out to vendors, visiting flea markets, cornering auctions, and following up on the occasional inquiry from collectors who may just have something interesting to sell.
For example, “We had this one instance I remember we followed up with a seller who had purchased roller skating rinks in Columbia and Murfreesboro, TN,” explains Joe.
“After the rinks went out of business, he had over 400 pairs of those old-fashioned black and white roller skates in great shape, so we bought them all.”
Connecting with the Community
It might surprise you that each decorated Country Store averages around 950-1,000 authentic pieces per location, many of them specific to that region. If a certain area is widely known for a particular team or attribute, the décor and overall theme will reflect that.
For example, often called the “The Sock Capital of the World,” Fort Payne, Alabama’s store has an entire wall of sock-themed pieces, from sock stretchers to knitting machines. A fireworks sign hangs in the Rialto, California store because Rialto is home to one of the world’s largest fireworks distributors. An upcoming El Paso store will feature rodeo posters since that’s what they are most known for.
“It’s fun to keep people guessing what some of these décor pieces are,” adds Joe. “For example, we have these old roller machines and balloon molds that tend to trip a lot of guests up.”
“All of the stores are special because of how they specifically tie into the community.”
From the Warehouse to the Country Store
It takes, on average, about a week to finalize the décor in a new Cracker Barrel store. This process includes everything from pulling the items in the décor warehouse to the actual setup at the location. Before Joe’s talented team heads off to the new site, they even mock-up a dining room and lobby area, using a dedicated restoration area in the warehouse. The team pulls items to stage the dining room, the front porch, and the retail space, then proceeds to critique the setup and make the necessary changes before making the trip.
“We try to outdo ourselves with each new location and make one unique over the other,” explains Joe. “It’s a testament to the creativity of my team. You never know where the next new idea will come from, and so many times, the ideas they come up with are ingenious.”
For example, shadowboxes are a new décor addition to the stores. Each store gets around 1-3 new shadowboxes made out of reclaimed wood that incorporate many cultural elements from the community in a fresh, fun, and creative way. Be sure to keep an eye out for them when you visit your local Cracker Barrel.
Every Picture (Or Piece) Tells a Story
Next time you visit us, take a moment and look around. Find a piece that interests you and see if you can figure out where it came from or what kind of fascinating story it must have. It will make for great conversation!
Visiting a Cracker Barrel isn’t just about enjoying a hot meal made with care. It’s about connecting with your community, reliving a little slice of history, and having a place to go that feels like home.
If these walls could talk, the stories they would tell. And that’s just how we like it!