(Update: Adding video, comments from neighbors, would-be customers)
'They definitely struggled with staffing,' another restaurant says; last 2 Portland-area restaurants also close
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – The Cracker Barrel Restaurant in northern Bend, which has struggled since the pandemic hit a year after it opened, shut its doors suddenly Monday morning, and all 29 employees learned they were out of a job.
Just over four years after its grand opening, the COVID-19 pandemic’s lingering impacts prompted the closure of the Cracker Barrel Restaurant and Old Country Store on Robal Lane, the company said. The last two Cracker Barrels in the Portland area also closed on Monday.
Some business neighbors of the Bend restaurant weren't too surprised.
“When they first opened, it was incredibly busy for the first week," Trailhead Liquor Owner Angela Chisum said. "Everyone was excited to try it. Some people have never tried it, since it’s normally more of a Midwest thing -- and it pretty much died after that.”
Before noon Monday, the lights in Cracker Barrel were on and a few people could be seen inside. A notice on the door told customers it had closed.
Paul Yuhas and his wife, Corie Campbell, were on their way to get a meal Monday, in a case of unfortunate timing in their quest for "comfort food."
“We were just coming from Bend and we’re going back to Redmond, and we’re looking for a place to eat. And we said, ‘Oh, let’s stop at the Cracker Barrel!’ And walking up to the door, we see a sign saying that they’re closed," Yuhas said.
Callers to NewsChannel21 and neighboring businesses said the Cracker Barrel employees were laid off Monday morning.
Chisum said, "One of their employees came in very upset because they had been laid off and told that the entire place was closing. They said they were given no notification whatsoever -- they just arrived at work this morning and (were) told they no longer had a job."
Kefi Fast Fresh Mediterranean Manager Nick Stanitsas said, "They definitely struggled with staffing. It’s hard to justify going to a big chain, when you can support a mom-and-pop restaurant."
Chisum said, "I actually wondered, especially after eating there, if Cracker Barrel was the right fit for the Bend demographic. Because it really is a culture of foodies, and I didn’t think that Cracker Barrel really fit that mold.”
Here's the statement the company provided to NewsChannel 21:
"As a standard course of business, we continually evaluate the performance of our stores, using various criteria to ensure we are meeting the needs of our guests and our business.
"With that, we are saddened that we have been unable to overcome the impact the pandemic had on our business and have made the difficult decision to close the Bend location.
"The decision to close a store is never one we take lightly, and our focus right now is in assisting our impacted employees during this transition.
"We extend our sincere thanks to our employees who worked so hard to keep our fireplace glowing and to the guests who have dined with us, celebrated with us, and made us part of their community. We look forward to reconnecting with them at other times at nearby Cracker Barrels in the future."
The closure is effective immediately, a Cracker Barrel media relations representative confirmed.
"Like so many other companies, we were unable to overcome the impact the pandemic had on our business, and we have struggled to staff and profitably run the store," the official added.
The restaurant on Robal Lane had sought to hire 175 full- and part-time employees in the fall of 2018, before its February 2019 opening.
But in a sign of its struggles, a company representative said Monday, "There are 29 total employees impacted (by the Bend closure), including 15 full-time employees."
Cracker Barrel also confirmed to KPTV Monday the closure of their last two Portland-area restaurants, in Beaverton and Tualatin, having closed the Cracker Barrel in north Portland, at Hayden Island, last summer. The same company statement was issued regarding those closures.
That leaves just one Oregon Cracker Barrel, in Medford, the station reported.
The Cracker Barrel representative confirmed that four closures were announced Monday, the fourth being in the St. Louis area. "We still have more than 660 stores in 45 states," they said.
Walmart recently announced it was closing its last two stores in the city of Portland, though several other Walmarts in the Portland area are still open.
Cracker Barrel, which opened in Bend on Feb. 4, 2019, is known for its unique décor of authentic American memorabilia that reflects the unique families and culture of the community it serves. The collection of décor was carefully planned and curated, and made up of entirely genuine artifacts. Attached to the restaurant was a gift store selling cards, toys, clothes, candy, décor and trinkets of all kinds.