Cracker Barrel, a country-themed restaurant and gift shop, has a storied history of discriminating on the basis of both sexual orientation and race, which is why it was perhaps surprising when the chain announced on Friday that it would be pulling some Duck Dynasty products from its shops. The show’s patriarch, Phil Robertson, had made comments comparing homosexuality to bestiality and suggesting African Americans were content without full civil rights. However, it was only 39 hours later that Cracker Barrel was apologizing to fans of the show and promising to sell the products.
Friday evening, Cracker Barrel posted on Facebook the following message championing “fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people” and suggesting that some Duck Dynasty products would be removed from stores so as to not to offend guests:
Cracker Barrel’s mission is Pleasing People. We operate within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people. These ideals are the core of our corporate culture.
We continue to offer Duck Commander products in our stores. We removed selected products which we were concerned might offend some of our guests while we evaluate the situation. We continually evaluate the products we offer and will continue to do so.
Conservatives objected, including Mike Huckabee and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. By Sunday morning, the chain decided that its own actions were actually more offensive than Robertson’s comments and proceeded to apologize to its customers:
Dear Cracker Barrel Customer:
When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that’s just what we’ve done. You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren’t shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong.
Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores. And, we apologize for offending you. We respect all individuals right to express their beliefs. We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different.
We sincerely hope you will continue to be part of our Cracker Barrel family.
In 1991, Cracker Barrel instituted a policy prohibiting the employment of gay and lesbian employees. It was deemed “inconsistent with our concept and values and… with those of our customer base, to continue to employ individuals… whose sexual preferences fail to demonstrate normal heterosexual values.” The establishment of this policy led to store managers interviewing employees to find out if they were gay, leading to the firing of as many as 17 employees across several states. The policy only lasted one month, but none of the people who were fired were ever offered their jobs back. In 2002, shareholders finally voted to add sexual orientation to the company’s equal employment opportunities policy.
In 2004, an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice found that Cracker Barrel consistently mistreated African-American customers, segregating where they sat, allowing white servers to refuse to wait upon them, and seating or serving white customers ahead of them. The investigation also alleged that restaurant owners directly participated in exercising this segregation. In addition to abiding the Justice Department’s guidance, Cracker Barrel also later paid $2 million in 2006 to settle a suit related to charges of racial and sexual discrimination against employees at three Illinois restaurants.