From Deborah Highland, The Tennessean
: Tuesday morning breakfast at the Lebanon Cracker Barrel Old Country Store has become a tradition for Shirley Allison and her husband, Dewey.
The Carthage couple is part of a group that for nearly 20 years has eaten Tuesday morning breakfast at the same Cracker Barrel.
They were not surprised to learn that the restaurant is not only celebrating its 40th birthday this year, the company is also enjoying its 19th consecutive year as the "Best Family Restaurant," according to a nationwide survey conducted by Restaurants & Institutions magazine.
"The employees make you feel like family when you come," Allison said. "They know us by our first names. They come up and give you a hug.
"The atmosphere here is a family atmosphere," she said.
Florence Ash of Lebanon added that the serving staff already knows what each member of the group wants before they get to their table each week.
"They've got us all pegged — what we like to eat in the morning," she said.
"Families can come here and rest assured it's going to be a good place to bring their children," Ash said.
At another table on a recent Tuesday morning, Thomas and Eula Stokes were celebrating his 70th birthday. The couple enjoy the food and appreciate a restaurant environment where alcohol is not served.
"That's a big draw for a lot of church folks," Thomas Stokes said as he ate his pancakes.
It all began on Highway 109
Company founder Dan Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel on Highway 109 in Lebanon in 1969. He wanted to create a business for travelers to stop for gasoline, a meal and some rest.
The company stopped selling gas years ago. And the once family-owned business is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the publicly held CBRL Group Inc., which operates 588 company-owned stores in 41 states. Evins has since retired from the business.
But much about Cracker Barrel remains the same.
A breakfast platter called "Uncle Herschel's Favorite" was named in honor of Evins' uncle, Herschel McCartney. Many long-time Lebanon residents remember Uncle Herschel as a country gentleman. He served as an ambassador of sorts for the company for many years and died in 1998. A life-size bronze sculpture of McCartney sits near the entrance of the company's headquarters campus in Lebanon.