Danny Evins, the lightning-rod founder of the down-home restaurant chain Cracker Barrel, died on Sunday of bladder cancer at age 76. While his chicken and dumplings will live on in Interstate rest stops across the country, here in New York City, he might be best remembered for some less savory offerings.
Evins was born in Tennessee and left his career as an oil jobber in 1969 to open a chain of family-friendly, Americana-style restaurants at rest stops across the country. It was successful from the get-go, until 1991, when Evins issued a company-wide edict to fire employees “whose sexual preferences fail to demonstrate normal heterosexual values.” His reasoning was that gay people made customers in rural areas feel uncomfortable. The New York City Employees Retirement System, which owned more than $6 million of Cracker Barrel shares, understandably flipped out and encouraged other stockholders to use their votes to organize resistance. Evins later apologized for the edict, though The Human Rights Campaign Index currently ranks Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. the third-worst company in terms of LGBT rights and benefits.
In 2004, the company was sued by several black customers in various states who claimed the racial bias against them was "flagrant." The company settled the suits, but an air of racism continues to linger. In 2005, Marty Markowitz rescinded his invitation for Cracker Barrel to visit Brooklyn, saying "I do not believe they are ready for Brooklyn. It is our greatest source of pride that Brooklyn's diversity of races, faiths and ethnicities is unrivaled anywhere in the world, and any company that is interested in doing business in Brooklyn must respect and celebrate that diversity."