Meet Sardar Biglari.
The 34-year-old, Iranian-born businessman is the chairman and CEO of an eponymous holding company. He’s a pretty big player in the world of mid-scale, fast-casual restaurants, with controlling interest in Steak ’n Shake and Western Sizzlin’ — and is a fan of owning dining establishments that drop letters in their names, it seems.
Now Biglari wants to expand that burgeoning empire into one of Middle Tennessee’s best-known brands.
In short, Biglari wants to be to Cracker Barrel what Warren Buffett is to Bank of America (or at least, what Buffett is to Dairy Queen and Orange Julius).
As Lebanon’s finest export reported its quarterly earnings, Biglari launched what’s called a proxy fight.
Now, this may sound a little dry, but to watchers of public companies it’s one of those grab-the-popcorn moments (or at least, pass-the-biscuits moments).
In a letter to fellow Cracker Barrel shareholders, Biglari — who owns more than 9 percent of the chain — argues he can help lead Cracker Barrel to the top of the down-home heap. He even launched a website — enhancecrackerbarrel.com.
The Cracker Barrel leadership bristled at the suggestion. After all, Biglari essentially runs competitors Steak ’n Shake and Western Sizzlin’ — why let the fox in the fried hen house?
But Biglari got them good: An executive from Chuck E. Cheese has been on the Cracker Barrel board. What’s good for the mouse is good for the, uh, milkshake?
Again, this all seems pretty dry — but it could represent a sharp change of direction for the comfort food chain of choice.
Cracker Barrel has made oodles of money for plenty of people — notably in Wilson County — who more than four decades ago bought into the crazy idea that interstate travelers wanted accessible Southern food and knick-knacks. Cracker Barrel is still based in Lebanon and holds fast to those roots. But the company isn’t quite making the money it used to, despite its solid reputation.
“I believe that the power of the brand has covered up Board missteps,” Biglari wrote. “The present proxy contest centers on placing a real owner on the Board of a company with an A+ brand that has failed to produce an A+ performance. We blame the Board for mediocrity.”
Cracker Barrel prides itself on its family-friendly service, but next month’s shareholders’ meeting isn’t shaping up as a cozy affair.