Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (CBRL) founder and chairman Dan Evins died Saturday near the company’s headquarters in Lebanon, Tenn., at the age of 76.

The restaurant chain expressed sadness on Monday when it announced the death and said it would mourn the loss of a man who "first conceived of a restaurant that would provide a safe and welcoming home-away-from-home for travelers."

Evins worked of Shell Oil in 1969 when he decided to open up a restaurant on Highway 109 in his home city of Lebanon. The restaurant had a small gift shop attached, a setup that remained consistent throughout all of the Cracker Barrel franchises.

Today, Cracker Barrel stores are often located near key travel hubs, typically off major highways. The company has more than 67,000 employees and operates 608 stores in 42 states.

While Evins often attributed the restaurants’ success to good luck, the company says he had known that people would be traveling more with the new interstate highway system. He tried to woo customers with hospitality so that they would stop again on their way home.

Evins named the chain Cracker Barrel Old Country Store as a nod to the country stores of his youth in rural Tennessee, where he recalled people would gather around and play checkers on top of empty barrels that had been used to deliver crackers to the store.

He served as chief executive from 1969 to 2001 and as chairman of the board until he retired in 2004, at which time he became Chairman Emeritus and member of the Cracker Barrel Founders Board until he died.

“I first met Danny when I joined Cracker Barrel in 1995 and knew immediately what a rare individual he was,” said Cracker Barrel CEO Michael Woodhouse, who took over the company upon Evins’ retirement.

“Danny was the keeper of this special brand for so many, many years, and he left us with a strong culture that values quality and honesty,” Woodhouse said in a statement. “He will be missed deeply.”

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