The Cracker Barrel crisis operations response team — assembled in the company's "war room" at its corporate headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday — sent its first group email out at 11:05 a.m.:
"Florence is projected as a Category 4 hurricane with the potential to reach category 5 status Friday morning at around 2 a.m. along the North Carolina coastline."
The email activated Cracker Barrel's emergency response plan, identifying the 10 restaurants and roughly 1,000 employees directly in the path of the storm. The company, which operates 655 of its Old Country Store and restaurants across the U.S. pulls together a core team of about 20 executives from human resources, loss prevention, security, communications, operations, facility services, information technology and other areas to respond to catastrophic events, said Janella Escobar, head of corporate communications.
Established in 1969, the restaurant chain is known for its casual dining and American comfort foods: chicken and biscuits, meat loaf, chicken fried steak as well as its quilts and signature meat and cheese gift baskets.
It's one of about two dozen publicly traded U.S. chain restaurants with significant exposure to Hurricane Florence, which was downgraded to a Category 1 as it made landfall in North Carolina on Friday. Chipotle and Outback Steakhouse's owner, Bloomin' Brands, also have a significant number of restaurants located along Florence's projected path, according to Jefferies analyst Andy Barish.
Although Florence has slowed, it's still bringing a life-threatening storm surge reaching heights of up to 11 feet with hurricane-force wind gusts and up to 40 inches of rain in some parts, according to the National Hurricane Center. It's already dumped more than 16 inches of rain in some areas.
"This rainfall will produce life-threatening flash flooding," the National Weather Service said in an advisory notice Friday.
Chipotle, based in Denver, has already closed 20 restaurants in the Carolinas and is monitoring potential damage through an extensive network of cameras.
"As long as the power is on, we are able to physically see activity inside the restaurants and assess flooding, damage, etc.," said company spokeswoman Laurie Schalow. It also uses technology to determine the impact of the storm on its equipment. Its energy management system, called Gridpoint, can determine if and how long outages or power surges impact its walk-in coolers or damage its grills and steam tables, she said.