Retro Crossroads 0108
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- In this episode of "Retro Tennessee Crossroads," we're heading back to 1992. And we'll find out why an off-season visit to Pigeon Forge might be an ideal weekend getaway. Al Voecks visits a place with collectible Valentine's Day gifts. I'll take you behind the scenes at Cracker Barrel in Lebanon to see how they put the old in their old country stores. Jana Stanfield dines at a place where barbecue lovers go out of their way for a feast. That's the light up for this edition of "Retro Tennessee Crossroads." I'm Joe Elmore. Sure glad to have you. Well, it's that time again, time for another journey into our archives and around Tennessee. And I'm here in the studio, of course, with Becky Magura, and we're gonna be watching these "Retro Crossroad" segments with you and share our reactions. - Oh, absolutely, Joe. You know, I always enjoy our time travels, and I haven't been to Pigeon Forge in some time. - Yeah. - So I'm really ready to head there. I don't think it, well, there's not much downtime in Pigeon Forge anymore, but I can't wait to see what it was like back then. - Well, all right, let's not delay then, onto Pigeon Forge in 1992. And we'll discover how this Tennessee vacation hub evolved into a year-round destination. This is the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, most folks know, a crowded parkway full of summertime attractions. A place for family, fun and games, on the way to the great Smoky Mountain National Park. So why would anybody want to come here in the wintertime? Well, that's what we're here to find out. I can tell you already, it's a lot quieter. The traffic is no problem. And the folks here are trying to make Pigeon Forge your idea of a perfect winter retreat. I'll tell you what, let's begin with an historic tour aboard this new trolley. You can take one throughout the month of February. And it'll take you to see the sites of a lesser known part of the region before the advent of go-karts and waterslides. Sevier County has more cantilever barns than any place in the country. And well, they're on the tour too. - And on top of that, they laid large poplar or hemlock logs usually about 35 or 40 feet long. And on that, they built the lofts, usually on solid lumber. - [Joe E.] After the tour, you can visit the Old Mill crafts village, and the centerpiece that's been in continuous operation since 1830. There's a store where they sell the cornmeal flour and other goods that are milled here. I was lucky enough to get an off-season tour of the place from owner Kathy Simmons. - You have to remember that milling is one of our very oldest forms of business, you know. It's one of the first things when the pilgrims came to this country, while the Indians were making cornmeal, and they taught it to the pilgrims. - The Old Mill has been in Kathy's family since the early 1930s, and she's had a hand in it ever since she was a youngster. You've been around mills for a long time or a mill for a long time. Do you ever get tired of this? - Of course. Don't you get tired of your work? Huh? I get tired but I can't do a thing about that. It's my living, so I have to be here and run it. - A lot of corn to be ground too. - A lot of corn to be ground. That's right. And we sell this meal. And we make corn, we make yellow and white cornmeal. We make bread, we make whole wheat flour, rye flour, buckwheat flour, four different kinds of pancake mixes. I don't know, a whole bunch of stuff. - [Joe E.] The crafts village is the business home of many talented mountain artisans. Pigeon Forge Pottery is full of goods made from local clay with local hands. Weekdays you can watch them at work. A few doors down is a music shop where they hand-make the first means of Smoky Mountain home entertainment. - Well, actually, they never were instruments to be played on the stage for performing their instruments, instruments to be built at home and very simple to play, very simple instruments. And they were built for home entertainment. People sit out on the porch and play 'em. You could play 'em with very little effort. Don't have to have any knowledge of music, really. Most people just play 'em by ear. They do write books, but most people just play by ear. The keyboard, the fingerboard is just like the white keys on the piano, straight do-re-mi scale. - Owner Bob Lazenby makes sure each new dulcimer plays just right and just the way they have for many decades. Pigeon Forge must be the factory outlet capital of Tennessee. Why, many of the major brands are here. And this time of year, there's no fighting the crowds. The outlet business is so big, annually, it brings in $122 million to the local town treasury. Hotels are abundant but you can opt for a bed-and-breakfast. This one is Hilton's Bluff. It feels quite secluded with lots of trees all around even though it's just a mile or so from the parkway. The decor is a blend of the old and the new. And there are 10 guest rooms. This one obviously with sweethearts in mind. At the end of the day, here's something that'll brighten up your evening in Pigeon Forge. All these lights are part of the Winterfest celebration going on through February here in Pigeon Forge over in Sevierville and in Gatlinburg. That's where we'll be next week in our search for the perfect wintertime Tennessee getaway. - Well, Joe, I love that whole segment. And, you know, I think anyone in this area, has always gone to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, hiking in the Smokies. One of my favorite places to go actually is Dollywood. I don't know about you. - I know, you know, they're closed in the winter, I guess, right? - Of course, yes. But they'll be open soon. - They will. Well, let's talk about Valentine's Day. - Okay, I'm ready. - Where they're about a gift that Valentine's Day brings. Candy has always been synonymous with the holiday. And several Middle Tennessee companies have been known to produce some of the best. Well, way back in the early '90s, Al Voecks took us to a famous family company in Murfreesboro. It's now gone but not forgotten. - This is a tough time of year. Most people, for the past few weeks, have been desperately trying to get rid of the excesses of the holidays. You know, that period between Thanksgiving and the first of the year when everything tastes so good. Most people have been fairly diligent and have shown a lot of willpower to stay with the program that they have chosen to shed a few pounds. And just when we start feeling good about ourselves again, lo and behold, look what time of the year it is. It's Valentine's Day. Now, Valentine's Day is love and cards and flowers, and candy. Well, no one said life was fair. So let's concentrate on the candy part of the Valentine's Day observance. We go to Murfreesboro, and Ole Taylor's Candy kitchen. Now, this is strictly a family operation, has been for the past 31 years when Weldon Taylor founded this organization. Currently, the kitchen is under the direction of Eddy Taylor, Weldon's son. There are bigger candymakers, of course, but size is not important to Eddy. - [Eddy] No, it's really not, Al. We pride ourselves on being small and being able to maintain our quality. We're able to use real butter, real cream. Our fudge has pure whipping cream in it. So we can control it. If we're smaller, we can control the shelf life, we make small batches. We really enjoy being unique and small. - [Al] Is Valentine's Day a big time of year for you? - It's probably our second and third biggest, second or third biggest holiday. Christmas is first, of course, and then Valentine and Easter are real close together as far as size and sales. Each piece of candy has its own recipe. And just like you make candy at home, we have to follow the recipe, which we've been making candy a long time, we pretty much know most of the recipes. But the ones that we're not familiar with, we, for sure, follow a recipe. Mix sugar and corn syrup and, you know, egg whites, if it calls for it, just like you making candy at home. - [Al] The age-old question. Your cream-filled candies, all cream-filled candies are always the same shape and size. How do you do that? - [Eddy] We got a machine in the back that it's called a cream former. And when we make a cream, it's in the dough stage, it looks like dough, biscuit dough. It's that consistency. And we'll put it on this machine, and it's got cogs that turn it, and push it through a die that shapes it. And then there's an arm that comes and cuts it off and drops it on the board. So every cream, as you say, is the same size and shape. - [Al] Is there any finger-licking going on back there? - We oftentimes give tours through the kitchen, and, well, I'll always tell, especially the children, to watch the lady that's doing the hand-dipping. Cause she oftentimes wants to lick her fingers and we don't like for her to do that. And they get a big kick out of that. But yes, we always nibbling on candy around here. - The '90s have been referred to as a decade to get rid of the excesses, back to health and nutrition. Some might put candy in that excess category, but Eddy totally disagrees. - As people are getting more intelligent about nutrition, and there are articles coming out all the time, there was an article out in one of our trade publications that noted that chocolate is really not as harmful as once thought for tooth decay. Chocolate has a part of it that really aids in keeping teeth from decaying. A square of chocolate, an ounce of chocolate, for example, just pure milk chocolate probably only has about 80 or 90 calories in it. And, you know, there's a lot of foods that have more calories than that. So again, if you eat in moderation, you know, you don't have to be concerned. - [Al] It's hard to imagine anyone who would fall in this category. But for those who might prefer something other than chocolate, well, there's always this, cinnamon hard candy. And that, of course, calls for a totally different process. - [Eddy] Hard candy's cooked obviously hard. It's cooked high. It's cooked to, like, 320 degrees. We pour it out on a marble slab, working in the flavor and the color. It's on, actually on the marble slab. When we first pour it out, it's a liquid. So we've got to keep working it up and cool it down until it gets again in that dough-stage consistency. And then we run it through a little mill that shapes the hard candy. And then after it comes out of the mill, we break it up and rub all the rough edges off of it, and we'll wet it. You can just picture lemon drops in your mind. We'll, you know, get those lemon drops wet and we'll tumble 'em in granulated sugar. And that granulated sugar sticks to it. The wet lemon drop, and then the candy was originally called sugar sanded hard candy. And that's where it gets its name. - For many people, the ideal job would be a clerk in a candy store, or better yet, go ahead and own the whole candy store. Anyway, this is a sweet time of year, so go ahead and indulge yourself. Mm. By the way, Happy Valentine's Day. All right, guys, now let's do this, let's do this again. I wanna make sure this closing is just right. So we might have to do it again. In fact, we might have to do it one, two, three, how about four more times? Mm. - You know, Joe, I love how you feature a lot of family businesses. And this was a story that we really got to go back with that family, the Ole Taylor company. - Yeah. - I love that candy company. - Yeah. - And I know the folks in Murfreesboro miss it. - I'm sure it brings back a lot of memories for them. - Absolutely. - Well, speaking of that, you have any memories of Cracker Barrel, being there? I love Cracker Barrel and I love the atmosphere at Cracker Barrel. - The atmosphere is really part of the whole experience. You know, Cracker Barrel was, is a chain that was founded in Middle Tennessee. Lebanon to be exact. But did you know that each store has its own unique collection of wall decoration? About a quarter century ago, we discovered how those antiques find their way to a warehouse at their corporate headquarters. Thousands of folks around the country know this sign, one that promises old country cooking inside, along with a warm, nostalgic atmosphere. Now, when people dine at a Cracker Barrel, they may not have questions about the food, but everybody wants to know about the decorations. I mean, where do they find all these relics and antiques? Well, it's actually a warehouse in Lebanon, Tennessee, where on any given day, over 100,000 pieces are shipped in, fixed up, and then shipped out to put the old in those old country stores. Let's take a look. Why, it's enough old stuff to overwhelm a new pair of eyes. And Cracker Barrel has a staff that stays busy finding and buying it, reconditioning it, barcoding it and storing it according to various groupings. Now, according to Joe Stewart, they can design a new store's decor before they go to decorate. - We categorize each individual area. Signs are in a section, pictures are in a section, implements, tools. If it's related to anything, then we have it together. - [Joe E.] Is it getting harder to find stuff? - [Joe S.] Not really. When you go into different states like we are now, people are becoming aware of Cracker Barrel, and they're calling us and saying that we have a barn full of this stuff. And we didn't realize that people like you, you know, use this stuff to decorate. It's really not. It's really becoming more popular. - So, Joe, when it comes to decorating a new store, this is essentially how it's gonna look, right? - Mm-hmm. This is the inside of the store. Actually, this is the back wall. This is the second alcove. And after we researched it, the designers are free to design how they want to design. They can use anything that's pertaining to the theme that they want to use. This is a tool theme. A ladder, saw, clamp. This looks like a dairy theme. - Yeah. - Cream separators. A lot of milk-related items. - [Joe E.] How many items in each store? - [Joe S.] That's about 1,000 pieces per store. - Wow. Joe gave me the nickel tour, which provides more than a few peculiar discoveries. Like this old brand of soda pop that promised vitamin B1 in every bottle. What in the heck is this thing? - This is an old barrel churn. This is the handle that rocks it and it spins all the way around, and it just makes revolutions and it churns butter. And the top comes off after you get through, and you take the top off and just pour it out. - [Joe E.] Barrel churn. Okay. Occasionally, you get visitors here. What do they think of all this stuff? - Ah, they're amazed. They ask where we get all this and they're just amazed. - Well, I'm amazed too, particularly, wooden spoke wheels. - Mm-hmm. - Don't see these every day. - No. - Well, I can see why the term washday blues came about, man. Vacuum cleaners. - Mm-hmm. - This is a vacuum cleaner? - It's a hand pump vacuum cleaner. - Oh, man, show me how it works. - Well, I guess you just went like this, and up and down, and it sucked the dirt up out of the floor. - I don't believe it. Yeah, no wonder the women have such frown on their faces in all these pictures on the wall. - Right. - Occasionally, a restaurant customer recognizes a distant relative in one of the old photographs, and often the manager will give them that picture. Constantly though, guests are rediscovering their own good old days through these relics. Maybe they were days when work was harder in the kitchen and on the farm. They rediscover old, long-lost friends like Buster Brown. Hey, I never knew he had his own brand of bread. But like these clocks from another time, everything here is part of history. And by collecting and preserving these timeless artifacts, in a way, Cracker Barrel is saving some of that rural past as each new store evolves into another mini museum. A lot of stuff in this place. And I can't help but think about the stories of the people behind the relics. Like, well, the family that stayed warm with coal from this old bucket. Or wonder where the kid is who once played with this red convertible or the one who rode this tricycle. Or how about the kid who tried to hit home runs wearing this little league uniform? Yep. A lot of stuff here. A lot of great old memories. - Joe, it amazes me every time I watch these shows how little you change. You look great there. You look great here. - You need new glasses? - No, I do not. And I know the viewers feel the same, and we're so glad you're joining us. Wasn't that fun? Walking through the Cracker Barrel memorabilia? That was so great. - I love all that old stuff, you know. - I do too. And, you know, you're really known for food places. I have a lot of favorites, Cracker Barrel. I bet you do too. But one of my favorites everywhere in Tennessee is barbecue. - Well, you know what? Our next story proves we were on the hunt for fine Tennessee barbecue on this show since day one. In this retro story, Jana Stanfield goes off the beaten path in Memphis to experience Interstate Barbecue. Now, that place was, and still is a family tradition favored by legions of barbecue lovers. - People used to say that to get to Interstate Barbecue, all you had to do was go to downtown Memphis and travel south on 3rd Street until you felt like you were in danger. Now people come from across Memphis, across Tennessee, and across the country to get a taste of the famous Interstate Barbecue. Memphis magazine says that Interstate Barbecue is the best place to take out-of-towners if you want them to think Memphis has great barbecue. Memphis's daily paper The Commercial Appeal rated it the best little pork house in Memphis. Interstate Barbecue was created by Jim Neely, who was in Germany when we visited. When he's gone, his two sons take charge. While son Ken runs the show out front, Kelvin Neely supervises behind the scenes. - you got already. One, two, three, four. - [Employee] And one on here. - [Jana] It's a family business. From the cooks to the waitresses, nearly everyone is a family member. - Niece and nephews learning business early. - [Jana] The Interstate secret of making great barbecue is simple according to Ken Neely. - For our philosophy is to make the best barbecue that we can possibly put out. And the philosophy is to be consistent. Make every sandwich as if you're making it for yourself. Don't serve anything that you feel like you wouldn't eat. Don't, do not serve it. If you won't eat it, then do not put it out to the customer. And that's the basic philosophy. If you won't eat it, then don't serve it. - [Jana] And do you guys eat your own barbecue? - [Ken] Of course. Of course. That's the only way you can make sure that it's up to our standards is if we eat it every day. - [Jana] Interstate Barbecue doesn't have to spend a lot of money on advertising. Their customers advertise for them. Well, this is your first time. What do you think? - I love it every bit of it. - [Jana] How'd you end up here? - On a bet. - [Person] I lost. - And he's treating me today too. Interstate wins. He say they're the best in town. I believe every bit of it now. - [Jana] What is it that you like about Interstate Barbecue? - They fall apart in your hands. Just the taste. They're good, sloppy ribs, tender, flavor. What else could you want except more napkins? - [Jana] The idea for Interstate Barbecue came when Kelvin and Ken's dad decided to switch from the insurance biz to the barbecue biz. - He always felt he was on those backyard barbecues. "Oh, I got the best barbecue. My barbecue is great." And we had a grocery store, and he started serving shoulder sandwiches through the grocery store. And it got the point where we could never keep enough of 'em in. He said, "Well, look at this thing, is this good? Maybe I ought to open up." And we were able to get a good deal on the building. He got it. And, that's where he started at. It was a slow process, but all good things come in time. - [Jana] The reason Neely got a good deal on the building also proved to be his toughest obstacle. The building had been a rough-and-tumble juke joint. In order to make people feel safe coming there to eat great barbecue, Neely had to do a major cleanup. - When we first opened up, more so than the building, the particular area had the stigma of, man, of old, bad part of town. What we had to was, my father called himself an urban renewal expert. We ran out rats and people. We had to clean up the place to make it respectable that you can bring your kids as well as your grandparents here, and eat and have dinner, and feel just as safe. Our flyer says, you can come here and feel just as safe in our parking lot and our building as you would be at home. - [Jana] Even after the cleanup, it took a while before people would try the restaurant. - He and my mother, they would actually sit and almost watch whole movies, you know, in between customers. But he always, he never gave up. He never said, "Man, I wonder, did I make the wrong mistake? And I should be doing something else." See, he never gave about faith. And then that's what, you have to have that when you're a small business owner. You got to have faith in what you're doing if you're going to survive. If you know you're doing everything right, then success can't help but to come to you. - [Jana] Things have changed a lot since those early days. - [Ken] When we originally got started, it was a situation where one man could almost be in here by himself. Now one man could have a heart attack in here. - [Jana] At busy times, people are willing to stand in line to get a taste of the Interstate's ribs, chopped barbecued sandwiches and barbecued spaghetti. It's been written about in everything from The Wall Street Journal to People magazine. How does it feel to be so popular now? - Oh, it's just a blessing. It's just an absolute blessing that we have been exalted in nationwide publications and it just really lets you know that you're doing, you got a good business going on and you're doing the right thing. You're putting out a good product. People come from all over the country telling, "I heard about you. That's the best barbecue I've ever had." And it just makes you feel real good. It's just a magnificent feeling, magnificent feeling. - Joe, I have so many places to explore now and I bet you do too. I haven't been, I've been to lots of barbecue places in Memphis, but not Interstate Barbecue. And I understand, the Neely family. - Yes. - That's a, and we all know them, right? - Yeah, they had a Food Network TV show - Right? - at one time. They're really going strong over there. - That's so great. I can't wait to try it. - Well, I hate to say it though, but it's time for us to get back to the present. But we'll dive into our archives again on the first Sunday of next month at 6:30 PM. - And you know what? If you can't wait until then, you can watch more of "Retro Tennessee Crossroads" just by going to any device any time that has the PBS video app. - Well, until next time, take care.
Retro Tennessee Crossroads
February 05, 2023
Season 01 | Episode 08
In this episode of Retro Tennessee Crossroads, we're heading back to 1992. We find out why an off-season visit to Pigeon Forge might be an ideal weekend getaway. Al Voecks visits a place with delectable Valentine's Day gifts. Joe takes you behind the scenes of Cracker Barrel in Lebanon. And Jana Stanfield dines at a place where barbecue lovers go out of their way for a feast.