The Mount Airy News


Couple visits city on Cracker Barrel odyssey


By Tom Joyce -

Some people have goals of trying to visit all U.S. states, or maybe national parks. But the objective for one Indiana couple is traveling to every Cracker Barrel restaurant, which has included a stopover in Mount Airy.

“We’ve been to 635,” Ray Yoder said last week of the odyssey by him and wife Wilma which has taken them to every corner of the country. Recently, their ongoing mission brought the pair to Mount Airy, where Cracker Barrel opened a new restaurant on U.S. 601 during the summer, one of the latest additions to the Tennessee-based franchise.

Based on their latest journey here, the Yoders, who are both 79, are nearing their ultimate goal of visiting every Cracker Barrel. “Two more,” Ray Yoder said from his home in Indiana near South Bend, adding that the couple has a map on which they have circled the location of each restaurant covered.

The remaining two eateries on the list are in Columbus, Mississippi, and Nampa, Idaho. Only four states do not have a Cracker Barrel, according to Yoder, who added that plans call for one to open in Las Vegas, Nevada, as well as in Oregon.

He said the couple’s quest began in the late 1970s, which stemmed from his job at the time which involved delivering recreational vehicles to dealers throughout the United States. This provided a rare opportunity to see the country which tended to also involve stops at Cracker Barrel locations along the way — mainly for logistical reasons.

“They usually were accessible,” Yoder said of Cracker Barrel’s presence along interstates and other major highways, “and they had RV parking right behind the store.” Once the recreational vehicle was delivered, there was a flight back home and then another RV journey would take place.

Even after Ray Yoder retired, the couple, who pride themselves on being independent in a travel sense, continued to visit Cracker Barrels in an effort to cover every one, since they had been to so many already. They came to Mount Airy in their 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis, a limited-edited vehicle that is garaged most of the time.

The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Internet site states that there are 633 restaurants in the chain, and Yoder mentioned that the 635 visited so far reflect changes over the years. “Some that we have been to have closed, which might be different from Cracker Barrel’s count.”

Yoder estimates that the travels have encompassed about 5 million miles altogether, a number of which a long-distance trucker would be proud.

The Yoders’ odyssey has been almost continuous — except for a major detour earlier this year.

“Their mission took a hiatus for the first time in 35 years when Wilma suffered (and survived) a brain aneurysm last spring,” explained Breeanna Straessle, manager of corporate communications for Cracker Barrel.

“So they’re very excited and feel very lucky to be able to restart their journey.”

“She’s doing fair, and we’re so glad to have her back,” Ray Yoder said this week of his wife’s medical crisis.

Stays a while

When adding a new restaurant to their list, the couple doesn’t just pull into the parking lot and call it a day, he said. The Yoders at least will get a coffee to go or buy something from the gift shop each has.

Ray and Wilma Yoder have become legendary figures among the Cracker Barrel chain, with the staff in Mount Airy greeting them with gifts during their visit here. But Yoder admits that he has lost sleep ever since because he forgot to leave the waitress a tip, and called back to Mount Airy to inform the staff he would be sending one by mail.

“My daughter used to be a waitress, and I know how important the tip is to them.”

Yoder added that Cracker Barrel establishments usually have the same design, although the one in Morganton boasts unique architecture compared to others.

The food also is comparable from place to place. “It tastes the same in Londonderry, New Hampshire, as it does in El Paso, Texas,” Yoder said.

His favorite dishes at Cracker Barrel are the meatloaf (“nobody has been able to match their meatloaf”) and hash brown casserole. “It’s just so much like home cooking there’s just lots of it that we really like,” Yoder said of its collective offerings.

He is not aware of anyone else who has tried to visit every Cracker Barrel location.

“There’s a guy who does that with McDonald’s,” Yoder said of the fast-food chain that has about 35,000 outlets, including many in foreign countries.

Yoder said the goal of visiting every Cracker Barrel — which he began when America had lots of wide-open spaces more conducive to travel — is not the kind of endeavor someone would start from scratch today.

“It would not be a thing you would do in today’s world with the traffic that we have.”

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Ray Yoder also enjoys playing checkers and you often see him participating in David Beachy's Checker Meet in Sarasota, FL; Crist Miller's Mid-Ohio in Fredericksburg; Pete Schmucker's Checker Meet in Shipshewana, IN; Tennessee Open or Southern in Lebanon; and North Carolina or Virginia tournaments.  I understand Ray and several of his Amish checker playing friends will attend the 2016 “3-Move” National in Branson, Missouri.