Cracker Barrel
Cracker Barrel stores offer a a feeling of nostalgia to everyone who walks in the door. Photo provided. 

There’s something about walking into a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store that takes you to your happy place.

And I don’t mean only if you’re of a certain age, or only if you’re on a road trip, or only if you’re really hungry and you’re on the way to the connected restaurant. 

Crystal Lindell
Crystal Lindell

No, there’s some sort of magical in the air that makes it possible to take everyone of every age to that special, cozy, nostalgic place in their heart the second you walk up to the front door. Everyone from grandmas to 5-year-olds somehow get both excited and calm all at once.

Maybe it’s the rows of inviting rocking chairs waiting for you on the front porch, or the smell of home-cooked ham that fills the air; or maybe it’s the fact that no matter what you’re looking for from your childhood they seem to have it — even the stuff you didn’t know you were looking for.

Of course, what would magic be without candy? And Cracker Barrel knows just how important sweets are to that nostalgia equation.

I’m working on a feature about the company for our September issue and I recently had the chance to chat with some of their executives about how exactly they pull off the perfect dose of nostalgia at all of their more than 600 locations. 

Cracker Barrel Candy Table
The candy table at Crystal's local Cracker Barrel is full of unexpected treats.

Laura Daily, senior vp of retail; Kristie Stein, candy buyer; and Jeanne Ludington, corporate communications manager, gave me a behind-the-scenes look at the magic that is the Old Country Store.

One of the most fascinating things I learned was that despite the fact that the stores are based on old country stores from the early part of the last century; the product selection is much broader than that.

It’s all part of their effort to give that retro feeling to every age group. So, where as candy orange slices might bring back memories for grandpa, it’s Pop Rocks that do the trick for mom and dad — and they stock both.

“For me, a Now and Later is retro,” Stein says with a laugh.  

The crazy thing is, the candy section also offers the unexpected for teens and kids. I took my younger sister Monica, who’s 14, to my local Cracker Barrel this week,  and even she found something surprising as her eyes wandered through the piles of candy. She plucked a huge moustache lollipop up and immediately started taking photos of herself with her cell phone, while holding it across face. 

Cracker Barrel
Monica, Crystal Lindell's sister, plays with a moustach lollipop at her local Cracker Barrel store. 

And, while Cracker Barrel does offer brands that people are comfortable with, such as Hershey, they don’t just stock a regular Hershey bar. Instead, they get the one with retro packing. Or, for example, last Christmas, they stocked a one-pound Reese’s Cup.

“We really want that sense of wonder when you search through the [candy] table,” Stein says.  

For what’s it worth, Stein seems to have one of the more fun candy buying jobs in the business. And that’s saying a lot, considering the fact that candy buying is pretty fun job no matter what company you do it for.

But Stein has the added bonus of always being on the lookout for the unexpected.

“When I work with manufacturers, it is a unique account,” she explains. “And, I like to spend time telling them about our guests. Just because it’s not your number one or two item, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work here.”

I’ll have a full report on Cracker Barrel in our September issue. But for now, I think I’m going to head over there for a quick lunch break and a shopping trip down memory lane. I hear the Mozjesik caramel candies are to die for.