LEBANON, TENN. – When you meet Larry Singleton, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in his job as décor warehouse manager for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

Sporting a long, white beard and suspenders over a blue plaid shirt that’s tucked neatly into faded blue jeans, and speaking with a slow, Southern drawl as thick as the June humidity that greets us, he looks and sounds like he was born for the role.

And, in a way, he was.

For the last 37 years, Singleton has curated a collection of over a million antiques and other authentic pieces of early-20th Century Americana that eventually make it into the more than 600 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations across the country. He’s responsible for finding and purchasing local and regional artifacts – from metal advertising signs, hand-crank telephones and old-timey radios, to cast iron cookware and farm tools, to vintage toys and musical instruments – to help create the homespun feel of a 1900s-era country store.

He inherited the job from his parents, Don and Kathleen Singleton, who were approached in 1969 by Cracker Barrel Founder Dan Evins to outfit his very first restaurant in Lebanon, Tenn.

“(Dan) had the idea of creating this old country store out on the interstate that was just getting finished at the time,” explains Singleton, who’s seated in a rocking chair like the ones that grace Cracker Barrel front porches. “It was set up for tourists and travelers, but was also a place where you could bring your kids. There wasn’t a lot back then for families to stop and do on the highways.”

As more restaurants opened, the Singletons – who owned a local antique shop – joined the Cracker Barrel team as full-time designers and helped decorate the first 30 or so restaurants.

Young Larry tagged along on weekend excursions to flea markets, estate sales and antique auctions, and quickly caught the collecting bug. He worked at the first Cracker Barrel when he was 15, washing dishes and bussing tables until he got a big promotion. “I got to pump gas at night,” he recalls with a smile.

When his mother became sick in late-1979, he started helping his dad and eventually succeeded him. “Harding Place in Nashville – I think it was store 33 or 34 – was the first one I designed,” he said. His mother passed away before getting to see the fruits of his labor.

“I always thought she'd have been proud of what we’ve done and how we’ve kept it going all these years,” he says. “Mom loved antiques. She loved finding and just being around them. And she had a great eye.”

Today, Singleton’s finds make their way to the 26,500-sq.-ft. warehouse on the campus of Cracker Barrel headquarters, which houses approximately 90,000 pieces of décor. He and his small team cleans and restores each item while preserving a worn, weathered look that reminds people of simpler times. Everything is tagged with a barcode, catalogued and stocked on shelves organized by categories. All items are original; there are no reproductions.

“We try to find genuine pieces that would have been in the old country stores, which sold just about everything,” Singleton explains.

Coca-Cola memorabilia has been a fixture in Cracker Barrel restaurants since the beginning. The décor warehouse includes approximately 300 Coke-branded pieces, and another 2,000 or so can be found in Cracker Barrel restaurants. Coke's just an iconic brand,” Singleton says. “The advertising signs, the coolers from the ‘50s, the crates and the Coke machines on the front porch... they’ve always been a perfect fit for us.”

New restaurants are designed in the warehouse. Singleton and his team spend about a week pulling items from the shelves and mock up each dining room, front porch and retail area. Then, everything is photographed, inventoried and carefully packaged for shipping.

Every Cracker Barrel is unique. When designing the décor for new location, Singleton’s team researches the town’s history to identify artifacts that fit the area. For example, an antique bicycle hangs on the wall of Cracker Barrel just outside Portland, Ore., a city well known for its bicycle enthusiasts.

“We were pulling décor pieces for an upcoming store in Cranberry, Pennsylvania the other day,” Singleton adds, “so we were going through and finding cranberry sorters and cranberry advertisements.” As evident by the name, the township is named for the wild cranberries that grew there when it was founded in the 1800s.

And the thrill of the chase never gets old. “We're treasure hunters at heart,” Singleton says. “We love discovering, finding and uncovering things. And the part I appreciate the most is that we put everything out there so everybody can see it.”

'Cracker Barrel has always tried to create a place where people could share their lives with each other and build relationships instead of looking at a phone. That's what it's about.'

Singleton says he loves seeing the décor – which is as much a part of the Cracker Barrel experience as its homestyle food and friendly service – stir up memories and emotions for multiple generations of patrons.

“I’ve had the opportunity over the years to be at a store and see an elderly gentleman walking with his eight-year-old grandson on the front porch, pointing out things and sharing a bit of history,” he said. “That's what it's about. It reminds me of me when my parents were instilling some of those things in me.”

In today’s fast-paced, tech-obsessed culture, Cracker Barrel provides a welcomed respite.

“I think it slows people down just a little bit,” Singleton concludes. “It’s reminiscent of a time when people took an hour or so to talk about their day and find out how everyone was doing. Cracker Barrel has always tried to create a place where people could share their lives with each other and build relationships instead of looking at a phone. That's what it's about.”