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Cracker Barrel to install charging stations for electric cars

24 of chain's restaurants participating in pilot project

Bridging its past with the future, family restaurant operator and one-time gasoline retailer Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. will have electric vehicle charging stations installed at 24 locations in Tennessee.

Officials of Lebanon, Tenn.-based Cracker Barrel said Tuesday that the installation of Blink electric vehicle chargers provided by ECOtality Inc. will begin next spring at two dozen of the chain’s 597 locations in the so-called “Tennessee Triangle,” a 425-mile stretch of interstate highway that connects Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga.

Julie Davis, senior director of corporate communications, said Cracker Barrel’s contract to take part in the “The EV Project” — an initiative to spur the adoption of electric vehicles by creating a charging infrastructure across the country — expires in December 2012, but she added that the company will have the option to renew the arrangement for two additional one-year periods.

A handful of other restaurant brands in the United States already provide ChargePoint Networked Charging Stations from Coulomb Technologies Inc. for the use of patrons with electric vehicles. They include a franchised McDonald’s in Cary, N.C.; Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar restaurants in the Florida cities of Clermont and Kissimmee; and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif.

“Cracker Barrel was founded along the interstate highways with the traveler in mind and has always tried to anticipate what our guests might want and need as they stop in for some good country cookin’ and to experience genuine Southern hospitality,” said Michael A.Woodhouse, Cracker Barrel’s chairman and chief executive. “Becoming a leader in The EV Project continues our tradition of striving to anticipate and meet our guests’ expectations and, at the same time, allows us to participate in a meaningful way in the nation’s explorations of energy independence.”

Woodhouse said he expects some general marketing advantages to come from the installation of charging stations.

“While ownership of electric cars is small compared with traditional vehicles, there’s great curiosity about them, and so we expect our guests will be quite interested in seeing these charging stations when they stop in with us,” he said. “We like to think that our guests will be pleased to see Cracker Barrel taking an active role in exploring energy alternatives that are aimed at protecting the environment, as well as strengthening our economy.”

Cracker Barrel’s Davis said that the chain will install a mix of regular and high-speed charging stations, which are capable of providing a full charge in about 30 minutes. She said Cracker Barrel will charge consumers a fee to use the chargers — likely on a per-minute basis — but noted the cost “will be a lot less than you would pay for gas.”

Though Cracker Barrel will not have to pay for the use of the charging equipment as long as it is taking part in the pilot test, Davis said the company is “making an investment.” That unspecified spending may be tied to such installation expenses as upgrading electrical systems or placing branding “wraps” on the hardware to help give the stations a bit of Cracker Barrel ambience, she indicated.

Chief executive Woodhouse said he sees the installation of charging stations as consistent with the chain’s past, as it sold gasoline in its early years. The fueling pumps were removed in the early 1970s during the oil embargo, company officials said.

Twelve of the 24 Cracker Barrel locations that will have chargers installed have already been identified, the company said. They are in the cities of Athens, Cleveland, Cookeville, Crossville, East Ridge, Farragut, Harriman, Kimball, Lebanon, Manchester, Murfreesboro and Nashville – at Stewart’s Ferry Pike.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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