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11 Home-Cooked Facts About Cracker Barrel

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Cracker Barrel has been offering hot food and old-timey merchandise to interstate travelers since 1969. Even if you’ve had your share of biscuits and played the ubiquitous peg solitaire game, you might not know everything about the nostalgic chain.

1. The Restaurant Was Originally a Tool to Sell Gas. 

Cracker Barrel founder Dan Evins was a gasoline man, not a chef. Evins worked as a wholesaler for Shell right as the interstate system was taking off, and he needed a way to overcome the loss of business at service stations that were no longer on main tourist routes. In September 1969, he opened a gas station of his own near the interstate in his hometown of Lebanon, Tenn. and set out to win over the tourist trade. To entice customers into filling up at his station, Evins added a restaurant that felt reminiscent of the country stores he visited as a child.

2. Tourists Have Always Been the Key Market. 

Once the original Lebanon Cracker Barrel opened, Evins zeroed in on the formula that would make the chain such a success: Serving comfort food quickly, reliably, and consistently through outposts close to interstate highways. Evins realized that customers may not eat at the same Cracker Barrel twice, but they would start looking for the home-cooked meals any time they took the road. His 2012 Washington Post obituary quoted an interview in which he explained his thinking to a restaurant trade publication in 1987: “Most people perceive tourists on the interstate as being mostly one-time customers. We knew that tourists were just creatures of habit.” 

3. The Gas Didn’t Last Long.

Filling diners’ tanks with gas was Cracker Barrel’s original goal, and as Evins expanded the chain throughout the South, the restaurants kept selling gas. Before long, this business plan ground to a halt with the oil embargo and energy crisis of the 1970s, and the company stopped building new stores with gas facilities. Before long, the company gave up on the gas business entirely to focus on food and retailing. 

4. Those Antiques on the Walls Are Real.

Fake antiques and reproductions wouldn’t feel authentic to customers, so Cracker Barrel shells out for the real thing. Larry Singleton is the company’s “resident archivist, anthropologist, and Americana aficionado.” When Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel, Singleton’s parents helped him decorate it with items from their antique shop, and their son carried on the family business by joining Cracker Barrel as a full-time expert in 1981. Singleton works out of the Cracker Barrel Décor Warehouse in Lebanon, Tenn., where his team restores pieces and places them on the walls of a mocked-up Cracker Barrel to perfect their placements.

5. The Antiques Come to Them Now. 

When Evins chose to decorate his restaurants with real antiques, he needed help from savvy dealers and curators like Singleton’s parents. Today, things are a little easier. With over 600 restaurants stuffed with relics, Cracker Barrel has established itself as a reliable buyer of old Americana, which makes the job a little easier. "We used to go out looking for this stuff, but now it mostly just comes to us," décor warehouse manager Joe Stewart told USA Today in 2013. "People know what we like, and we really don't have to search for it anymore." That doesn’t mean the chain gets everything it wants—the same story notes that the tin advertising signs that are such a staple of the outlets’ look are getting hard to come by. 

6. The Store Section is Worth Millions On Its Own. 

Enticing wear travelers into doing a little folksy shopping while they wait for their table has proven to be a brilliant business move. In 2014, retail sales alone generated over $500 million, around 20 percent of the chain’s total revenue. According to the company, this total nets out to $415 per square foot of retail space, a number the Motley Fool notes is comparable to Wal-Mart’s retail acumen. 

7. It Moves a Lot of Rocking Chairs. 

Like the antiques on the walls, the rocking chairs on each restaurant’s porch have been around since Evins opened the first Cracker Barrel. To complete the outlet’s homey vibe, Evins put two rocking chairs from the Hinkle Chair Company of Springfield, Tenn. on the porch. That bit of branding has exploded into a big business of its own. Hinkle still makes the chairs - more than 200,000 rocking chairs for Cracker Barrel each year - and the signature furniture has become the chain’s biggest seller

8. You Can Stop at a Cracker Barrel Almost Anywhere. 

Becoming a publicly traded company in 1981 gave Cracker Barrel the capital it needed to really expand across the country, so hungry travelers can now find a Cracker Barrel almost anywhere there’s an interstate. There are a few exceptions, though. The company only operates in 42 states, which means you’ll have to keep on driving for a while or get on a ferry if you’re in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, or Wyoming. 

9. The Internet Wants to Help You Beat the Peg Game. 

Anyone who’s waited for an order in a Cracker Barrel has tried their hand at the peg solitaire game that sits on every one of the chain’s tables. And each of those players has probably known the frustration of leaving four or more pegs, a result that earns the taunt of “You’re just plain ‘eg-no-ra-moose.’” Luckily, they’re not alone. The deceptively tricky peg game has proven to be fertile ground for game theorists and computer scientists to study. Want to up your game quickly? As one particularly comprehensive site by George Bell puts it, “These rules of thumb are easy to remember: ‘Don't jump into a corner or out of the center.’” 

10. Cracker Barrel Buys a Lot of Billboard Space. 

When you’re trying to get drivers to pull off the interstate and eat some grits, you advertise to them when they’re on the road. Cracker Barrel keeps it simple and throws its name, logo, and images of food on billboards. Lots and lots of billboards.  As the company’s website puts it, “With more than 1,400 billboards in 42 states, Cracker Barrel is one of the top five outdoor advertisers in the country.” With that many billboards, every change to their design, like a 2006 overhaul that added images of food to make viewers even hungrier, qualifies as major news. 

11. The Company Has Also Used Quirkier Advertising Strategies. 

Billboards are hardly high-tech, but the company has used even more straightforward marketing techniques at other points in its history. The company’s site notes that in the 1970s Evins got one of his recently opened stores’ managers to start calling random names from the local phone book to invite them to the new Cracker Barrel for a home-cooked meal on the house. As the company puts it, “Two weeks later, business picked up. All over town, people were talking about the new restaurant near the interstate and the manager who was calling people to invite them over for dinner.”  

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Eggo Came Up With 9 Perfect Recipes for Your Stranger Things Viewing Party
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As the return of Stranger Things draws near, you can expect to see fans break out their blonde wigs, hang up their Christmas lights, and play the Netflix show’s theme song on repeat. But Eggo knows the best way to celebrate the season two premiere on October 27 is with a menu featuring Eleven’s favorite snack. As Mashable reports, the brand has joined forces with Netflix to release a menu of gourmet waffle recipes to serve at your Stranger Things viewing party.

The lineup includes nine creative takes on Eggo waffles, each one named after an episode from the new season. The menu kicks off with “MADMAX,” a spin on chicken and waffles served with maple syrup and Sriracha. As the season progresses, pairings alternate between sweet (like “Will the Wise,” featuring ice cream and hot fudge) and savory (like “Trick or Treat, Freak,” a waffle version of a BLT). Check out the full menu below with directions from the experts at Eggo.

EPISODE 1: "MADMAX"

Eggo recipe.

1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha
1 deli hot chicken tender

1. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions.

2. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine syrup and Sriracha. Microwave on high for 15 to 20 seconds or until just warm.

3. Place warm chicken tender on top of waffle. Drizzle with syrup mixture. Serve with knife and fork.

EPISODE 2: "TRICK OR TREAT, FREAK"

Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiched between two waffles

4 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
2 lettuce leaves
4 thin tomato slices
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
8 slices turkey bacon, crisp-cooked and drained
3 tablespoons blue cheese salad dressing

1. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions.

2. Top two of the waffles with lettuce and tomato slices. Sprinkle with pepper. Top with bacon. Drizzle with salad dressing. Add remaining waffles. Cut each into halves. Serve immediately.

EPISODE 3: "THE POLLYWOG"

Eggo recipe.

1 1/2 cups vanilla ice cream, divided
3/4 cup strawberry ice cream
3 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles or Kellogg’s Eggo Chocolatey Chip waffles
1 Banana, sliced
3 Strawberries, sliced
2 cups frozen reduced-fat, non-dairy whipped dessert topping, thawed
Assorted small candies (optional)
Gold-colored decorator’s sugar or edible glitter (optional)

1. Place vanilla and strawberry ice cream in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes until slightly softened.

2. Meanwhile, on large piece of parchment paper or wax paper, trace 4 1/2-inch circles. Place paper on baking sheet. Working quickly, spoon 3/4 cup of the vanilla ice cream onto one circle. Flatten into a 1/2-inch-thick, 4 1/2-inch-diameter disk. Repeat with remaining vanilla ice cream and strawberry ice cream, making disks. Lightly cover with wax paper and freeze at least two hours or until firm.

3. Toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions. Cool. Leave one waffle whole. Cut remaining waffles into quarters.

4. Remove paper from ice cream disks. Top with one of the vanilla ice cream disks and four waffle quarters, leaving a small space between pieces. Top with vanilla ice cream disk and more waffle pieces (always arrange waffle quarters so they align with waffle quarters on lower layers). Add the remaining vanilla ice cream disk and more waffle pieces. Top with strawberry ice cream disk and the remaining four waffle quarters. Wrap in plastic wrap. Gently press down on the stack. Freeze at least 3 hours or until firm.

5. Remove waffle stack from freezer. Remove plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Mound with whipped topping. Decorate with candies and gold sugar (if desired).

6. To serve, cut into four pieces, cutting between waffle quarters.

TIP: To easily form ice cream disks, place a 4 1/2-inch round cookie cutter on parchment or wax paper on baking sheet. Place ice cream inside of cookie cutter and smooth into solid disk. Remove cookie cutter and repeat for remaining ice cream disks. Freeze as directed above.

EPISODE 4: "WILL THE WISE"

Eggo waffle.

1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon hot fudge ice cream topping
1/3 cup vanilla ice cream
1 tablespoon caramel ice cream topping
2 tablespoons aerosol whipped cream
1 tablespoon dry roasted peanuts

1. Toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions. Heat fudge ice cream topping according to package directions.

2. Scoop ice cream onto center of waffle.

3. Drizzle with fudge and caramel toppings. Add whipped cream. Sprinkle with peanuts. Serve with knife and fork.

EPISODE 5: "DIG DUG"

Eggo waffle.

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
3 tablespoons orange-colored decorator’s sugar
6 oblong chewy fruit-flavored green candies or 2 small green gumdrops, cut into 6 pieces

1. In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, pumpkin, powdered sugar, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours or until firm enough to shape.

2. Meanwhile, toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions.

3. Place orange-colored sugar in a small bowl. Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, shape about 2 tablespoons of cream cheese mixture into pumpkin shape. Roll in orange sugar. Place on one waffle. Repeat with remaining cream cheese mixture, sugar and waffles.

4. Press green candy into each cream cheese ball for pumpkin stem. Serve with spreaders or knives to spread cream cheese mixture over waffles.

EPISODE 6: "THE SPY"

Eggo waffles.

3 frozen fully-cooked sausage links
2 tablespoons green bell pepper
2 tablespoons water
1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha

1. In a small nonstick skillet, cook sausage links, bell pepper, and water, covered, over medium heat for five minutes. Remove pepper from skillet. Set aside. Continue cooking sausage, uncovered, about two minutes more or until browned, turning frequently.

2. Meanwhile, toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions.

3. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine syrup and Sriracha. Microwave on high for 15 to 20 seconds or until just warm.

4. Arrange sausage pieces and pepper pieces on waffle. Drizzle with syrup mixture. Serve with knife and fork.

"EPISODE 7"

Eggo waffle.

6 cups canned pineapple slices, drained
1 tablespoon flaked coconut, toasted
1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
2 tablespoons aerosol whipped cream
1 tablespoon macadamia nuts, chopped

1. Cut pineapple slices into four pieces.

2. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions. Place on serving plate. Top with coconut, pineapple slices, whipped cream, and macadamia nuts. Serve with knife and fork.

"EPISODE 8"

Eggo waffle.

6 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
1 tablespoon butter
3 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled
6 thin slices Monterey Jack cheese or cheddar cheese (3 oz. total)
Ketchup or salsa (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper with a fork until well combined. Set aside.

2. Place frozen waffles in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F for five minutes.

3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large nonstick skillet. Pour in egg mixture. Cook, over medium heat, until mixture begins to set on bottom and around edges. With spatula, lift and fold partially cooked eggs, allowing uncooked portions to flow underneath. Continue cooking and folding for two to three minutes or until egg mixture is cooked through.

4. Top waffles with egg mixture, crumbled bacon, and cheese slices. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F about one minute more or until cheese melts. Serve with ketchup or salsa (if desired).

"EPISODE 9"

Eggo waffle.

6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
6 slices mozzarella cheese or provolone cheese (6 oz. total)
24 slices pepperoni (about 2 oz. total)
1/3 cup pizza sauce

1. Place Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle waffles in single layer on baking sheet. Bake at 450°F for three minutes. Turn waffles over. Bake at 450°F for two minutes more.

2. Cut waffles into quarters. Return to baking sheet.

3. Cut cheese slices into pieces to fit on waffle quarters.

4. Top waffle quarters with cheese pieces, pepperoni slices and pizza sauce. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F for three to four minutes or until cheese melts. Serve warm.

Making the full nine-course menu might take a lot of work, but then again, it’s probably healthy to plan some cooking projects to break up your binge-watching session. Once you're done burning through all those waffles (and episodes), Eggo has a few suggestions for what to do with the empty box. Accessories like an Eggo flashlight or a bloody tissue box sound like the perfect way to make your Stranger Things costume stand out at this year’s Halloween party.

Instructions for crafting with leftover Eggo box.

Instructions for crafting with leftover Eggo box.

[h/t Mashable]

All images courtesy of Eggo.

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The Little-Known History of Fruit Roll-Ups
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David Kessler, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The thin sheets of “fruit treats” known as Fruit Roll-Ups have been a staple of supermarkets since 1983, when General Mills introduced the snack to satisfy the sweet tooth of kids everywhere. But as Thrillist writer Gabriella Gershenson recently discovered, the Fruit Roll-Up has an origin that goes much further back—all the way to the turn of the 20th century.

The small community of Syrian immigrants in New York City in the early 1900s didn’t have the packaging or marketing power of General Mills, but they had the novel idea of offering an apricot-sourced “fruit leather” they called amardeen. A grocery proprietor named George Shalhoub would import an apricot paste from Syria that came in massive sheets. At the request of customers, employees would snip off a slice and offer the floppy treat that was named after cowhide because it was so hard to chew.

Although Shalhoub’s business relocated to Brooklyn in the 1940s, the embryonic fruit sheet continued to thrive. George’s grandson, Louis, decided to sell crushed, dried apricots in individually packaged servings. The business later became known as Joray, which sold the first commercial fruit roll-up in 1960. When a trade publication detailed the family’s process in the early 1970s, it opened the floodgates for other companies to begin making the distinctive treat. Sunkist was an early player, but when General Mills put their considerable advertising power behind their Fruit Roll-Ups, they became synonymous with the sticky snack.

Joray is still in business, offering kosher roll-ups that rely more heavily on fruit than the more processed commercial version. But the companies have one important thing in common: They both have the sense not to refer to their product as “fruit leather.”

[h/t Thrillist]

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