Over the Barrel: Since Cracker Barrel cracked open its combination restaurant/country stores in Thornton and Colorado Springs in May, I've been bombarded with phone calls and letters from citizens who are boycotting the national chain. This quote from one writer pretty much sums up why: "We cannot allow a company that has a written policy against hiring homosexuals to pollute our state. This company fires anyone on sight who's even suspected of being gay."
Easy there, folks.
This isn't the first time I've encountered this issue. While working as a reporter in Naples, Florida, in 1992, I covered Cracker Barrel's opening there, which inspired heavy protests from Queer Nation and ActUp. It turned out that earlier that year, a statement had sallied forth from Cracker Barrel's home office in Lebanon, Tennessee, that said the company would not hire "people who do not demonstrate normal heterosexual values." This press release was issued in response to the firing of a number of CB employees throughout the chain, some of whom happened to be gay. As soon as the you-know-what hit the newsstands, the company was attacked by the media and boycotted by hundreds of thousands all over the country--and rightly so.
Except that three days after the statement first appeared, company chairman Dan Evins had rescinded it, claiming that it came from just one person in the office, and that he personally felt terrible about the whole horrible thing. But it was too late--the damage had been done. According to CB's director of employee relations, Ellen Cozart, the person who wrote the statement is "no longer with the company"; Evins and Cozart have spent the past three years publicly denying that CB is anything but an equal opportunity employer. The company has absolutely no policy against hiring anyone who is qualified, Cozart says, adding that quite a few employees in the company's more than 225 restaurants are gay. "I can't believe we are still dealing with this," she adds. "It just won't die, and I'm here to tell you that we have no policy against hiring homosexuals. We hire solely on the basis of experience, and we promote on the basis of performance. And that's not only the official statement, it's the truth."
Another Cracker Barrel rumor is easier to shoot down--the one that claims the chain sells rebel flags and other paraphernalia supporting the South's stand in the Civil War. According to Cozart, none of the company's cutesy little country stores peddle flags or any other merchandise that could be misconstrued as anti-anything--unless you find scented candles and cast-iron cookware offensive. I usually find chain restaurants offensive, but I have to admit that while in Naples, I downed plenty of CB's breakfasts, especially the eggs-in-the-basket and the hashbrown casserole.
Open-and-shut cases: Here in Denver, one of my favorite things to eat had been the Best of Denver-winning potato salad from Hummel's Delicatessen & Sidewalk Cafe, at 2360 East Third Avenue--but, alas, no more. Owners Gordon and Jean Hummel were ready to retire, their kids weren't interested in the volatile restaurant business, and the deli shut down earlier this month. Quick, somebody get that potato salad recipe...And my old boss, Peter St. John, has called it quits. Really. He just shut the doors on Tango Saloon, his second try in the same 560 South Holly location.
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