BY REID IFORD, TUALATIN LIFE
If Cracker Barrel Old Country Store had a fan club, Danny O’Neal would be the president. The Tennessee-based restaurant chain is opening its first of three Oregon stores in Tualatin at the Nyberg Rivers shopping center on April 17th. This won’t be any too soon for Danny, who is chomping at the bit to have his favorite Tennessee restaurant open in Tualatin.
“I drive by there all the time,” says Danny, a 22 year Tualatin resident. “I’ve been taking pictures of the progress and posting them on Facebook, and all my friends back in Tennessee are glad that I’m getting me a new Cracker Barrel that I can go to.” Danny and his family have a lot of history with Cracker Barrel, going back to the very beginning.
“I was raised in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, which is right outside of Lebanon, where Cracker Barrel started. My sister Debby worked as a waitress at the very first Cracker Barrel on Hwy 109 right off interstate 40 in Lebanon, when it opened in September 1969. Her uniform consisted of a red gingham shirt, short cut off overalls and white sneakers. All the Grand Ole Opry stars used to stop in there, because it was right off the Interstate and open 24 hours.”
But Danny makes it clear his excitement about Cracker Barrel coming to Tualatin is less about nostalgia and a lot more about having a high-quality restaurant and unique dining experience, highlighted by down-home regional décor and a menu featuring popular Southern food items rarely if ever seen in the Northwest.
“I love their selection of good old Southern country cooking, particularly their breakfasts,” explains Danny. “My favorites are Grandpa’s Country Breakfast, with country fried steak, and the Country Boy Breakfast. Plus, I like the fried okra. There’s nothing like it, and you can’t get that anywhere else. Other dishes I like are their fried apples and their hash brown casseroles. And their catfish. I can’t think of much I don’t like on their menu.”
Late sleepers don’t need to worry. Cracker Barrel breakfasts are served all day. Danny tells us eating at Cracker Barrel is not just about getting full. It’s a fun experience that makes it worth coming back again and again. The Tualatin restaurant will even feature a porch with rocking chairs.
“The thing is, it’s always so laid-back and the people that work there always seem to be enjoying what they’re doing,” says Danny. “It’s just been always a pleasure. And they have all the old antiques, and I like seeing them. That kind of lets you feel at home. I like that when you go into the little store. They have an assortment of all the old candies that of course I grew up with. Those are the candies that when I was young I used to go into the store and buy off-the-shelf, and they have all of them.”
“Cracker Barrel Old Country Store” may be built on its reputation for Southern cooking and hospitality, but the Country Store is more than just a name. Restaurants have their own “country store” gift shop. Besides Danny’s favorite childhood candies, they stock food, vintage toys of the 1950s and ‘60s, kitchen items, country music CDs, and many other things, often sharing a nostalgic theme.
“Being from Tennessee, you like the way they have everything laid out,” adds Danny. “It’s a nice homey feel, and from one restaurant to another the quality always seems to be the same. The people are great, and I can get foods there you can’t get anywhere else.”
Since the late founder Dan Evans opened his first restaurant in Tennessee in 1969, Cracker Barrel has expanded to 641 restaurants located in 43 states. They are now moving into the West, with new stores recently opened in Nevada and Idaho. Oregon’s three stores, beginning in Tualatin, will be their first locations on the West Coast.
Danny could not be happier with these plans, and is counting the days until his own Cracker Barrel restaurant opens in Tualatin. So just how committed is this unofficial “Cracker Barrel Fan Club President?”
“I used to plan my vacations around Cracker Barrel,” says Danny. “I’d check out and see where the next Cracker Barrel was, so I’d know where we were going to eat.” Starting this spring, Danny won’t need to take any more road trips to eat at his favorite restaurant.