You might feel young and hip eating at at Holler & Dash, and that's by design — from parent company Cracker Barrel. Surprise!
— Kristen Hawley
As restaurants work to stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace, big restaurant chains are diversifying their offerings to appeal to a different audience. This is the first in a Skift Table series dedicated to the stories behind the small names.
Cracker Barrel, the beloved southern chain with its rocking chairs and tchotchkes, isn’t exactly a beacon of hip. But buttermilk biscuits, a Cracker Barrel staple, proved strong enough to fuel a concept of its own.. The catch? Customers walking through the door might have no idea that they’re eating at a Cracker Barrel concept.
Holler & Dash, the hipper, urban, fast-casual concept from parent Cracker Barrel opened its first location in Birmingham, Alabama in 2016. Breakout concepts aren’t exactly a new idea: for decades brands have been creating scaled-down versions of themselves to align with real estate restrictions, or to test the waters in a new market. Holler & Dash is nothing of the sort – in fact, it appears to be the antithesis of its parent brand. Cracker Barrel has always appealed to an older demographic, and has built its corporate identity around rural nostalgia fueled by “country” cooking and retail.
Holler & Dash has created a checklist of millennial-friendly restaurant cues to incorporate into its design. Nonsensical name containing an ampersand? Check. Exposed brick walls and subway tiles? Check. Edison light bulbs in mason jars? Double check.
The chain’s website similarly offers no clues to their parentage, and a side-by-side comparison to CrackerBarrel.com is a master class in repackaging. H&D replaces the stodgy corporate format with something more intimate and inviting, with phrasing more akin to a mom and pop than big business. “Our Story,” printed in bold on the top of the page, links to a page of photographs of tattooed chefs and their biographies, putting a human face on the company. In contrast, Cracker Barrel offers details about itself in small print at the bottom of the page, broken down into categories like investor relations, tour group booking, and product recalls.
But why biscuits? Why not one of Cracker Barrel’s other signature items, such as fried chicken or all-day breakfast? Perhaps because its biscuits, while much loved, aren’t instantly recognizable as a Cracker Barrel product. And, more certainly, it’s because most of the heavy lifting in launching this concept has already been done for them. Buttermilk biscuits are big business, and have spent over a decade moving from the bread basket to the driving force behind some of the country’s most popular independent fast casual concepts.
From proper brick-and-mortars like Oregon’s Pine State Biscuits to farmer’s market phenoms like Baltimore’s Blacksauce Kitchen, the new generation of biscuit houses inspire long lines and sometimes hour -long waits by artfully combining modern aesthetics and social shareability with the from-scratch traditions that originally established biscuits as a cornerstone of American comfort food. Holler & Dash isn’t as much a new concept as it is a clone of smaller, successful ones.
Overt biscuit love has been growing year over year as America’s obsession with its culinary roots continues. The annual International Biscuit Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee drew over 25,000 biscuit lovers at its most recent event. Organizer Chadwick Boyd isn’t surprised by growing biscuit popularity. “Biscuits are a comfort that are almost always tied to a personal story. For millennials, especially, biscuits are Instagrammable and affordable. You can get a great picture of a Pine State Biscuit before you bite into it, garner hundreds or thousands of likes, and finish totally satisfied for $10 or less.”
As for Holler & Dash, it looks like Cracker Barrel’s gamble could be a winning one. Since the opening of its first location, it has opened five more in key markets around the southeast, growing early sales by appealing to an audience whose diets are already biscuit-heavy and, quite importantly, growing their credibility as a true Southern dining experience — no rocking chairs or gift shops required.