‘Diversity is crucial to our business’

For 40 years, employees of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store have worked to create a special relationship with our guests. Our mission statement is “pleasing people,” and our employees work every day to deliver on that. To us, pleasing people means showing mutual respect to our employees, our guests, our vendors and shareholders.

Mutual respect — by definition — is a two-way street. We believe that a person’s actions are not acceptable if they violate another person’s rights.

That’s why the events of Sept. 9 in Morrow are so reprehensible to our employees and our company. On that day, Tasha Hill, an African-American woman, brought her daughter to our store in Morrow to enjoy a meal and our hospitality.

While entering the restaurant, an altercation occurred between Hill and a Caucasian man who was leaving the building. The altercation became physical, an arrest was made, and the legal proceedings that followed have led some people in the community to engage in a passionate and spirited debate over race relations in this country.

This unfortunate altercation could have occurred anywhere in the country, and is certainly not indicative of what occurs when a guest comes to Cracker Barrel. More than 600,000 people come to our stores every day and enjoy our hospitality — the same hospitality Hill had expected to receive.

This week, the man charged with this assault was in court for a bond hearing and arraignment. Since the altercation, many people have expressed their support of Hill and raised awareness about the need for better racial understanding and equality among all people.

We’d like to add our voice to this chorus of support for diversity. We believe everyone must work together for greater understanding and an appreciation of diversity.

At Cracker Barrel, embracing diversity is crucial to our business, to ensure that people from all backgrounds feel welcome as they eat in our dining rooms, shop in our retail stores, and work for our company. It’s why we provide regular training for employees about the importance of appreciating diversity.

We also expect our guests to be polite to each other, and not allow their personal viewpoints to interfere with someone else’s dining or shopping experience. That’s why we informed Hill’s alleged assailant that he is no longer welcome in any of our locations.

The surveillance video of this altercation has been provided to the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office. The district attorney requested that Cracker Barrel not publicly release this video because it could unduly influence the investigation, the prosecution, and the outcome of the case. We are respecting this request because, like Hill, the prosecution, and the community, we want to see justice done.

The video will help a jury understand the events of that day, including the swift action by our manager who put himself in harm’s way to protect Hill. The video also shows that immediately following the altercation, the manager stayed near Hill as she followed her alleged assailant into the parking lot, where it appears another verbal exchange occurred between Hill and her alleged assailant.

Tolerance and mutual understanding are everyone’s responsibility, and we’re committed to diversity and inclusion. At Cracker Barrel, welcoming diversity in our company, our retail stores, and our restaurants is good for business and, more importantly, good for all people.

We hope that this unfortunate incident will remind us all of the importance of contributing to a society that appreciates and respects diversity and inclusion.

Michael A. Woodhouse is chairman, president and CEO of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc.