Second Helpings

Over the Cracker Barrel: A few weeks ago, I wrote a favorable review of Cracker Barrel, a Tennessee-based chain with some 350 branches across the country. The company is currently moving into the Valley in a big way.

I thought the down-home fare was cheap, ample and tasty. But correspondent Eileen Wilson informed me that the company may have a better track record in the kitchen than it does in the personnel office.

She cited a Mother Jones magazine article, which charged that Cracker Barrel had a policy that forbids hiring applicants lacking "normal heterosexual values."

A call to company spokeswoman Pat Brunicardi produced an explanation, sort of.

She acknowledged that, years ago, a Cracker Barrel executive did write up and distribute an anti-gay memo. But she claims the guidelines never were official company policy. When word of the directive got out, headquarters "immediately rescinded" it, she told me.

Today, Brunicardi says all the right things: Cracker Barrel "takes discrimination seriously," and employment is based on "aptitude and abilities." She added that "we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind toward any individual or group," and that, when circumstances dictate, the company "takes prompt remedial action."

It's interesting to note that the law prohibits employers from discriminating against workers because of race, religion, color, age, gender and physical disability. But there is no such protection for gay employees. For them, "Don't ask, don't tell" has more than a military application.

There's no protection for gay customers, either. Another reader wrote me about a horrendous experience at another restaurant, ironically enough, participating in the "Dine Out for AIDS" benefit. A rude manager gave this reader's group such a hard time they decided to get their food packed up to go. They heard the manager snap to his staff, "Make sure those faggots leave as soon as they get their pizzas."

Critics of capitalism like to point out that it's soulless and directed only at the bottom line. But that's one of its saving graces, too. It's not good business to reject able employees or antagonize customers on the basis of their sexual orientation. Let's hope the "invisible hand" works like it's supposed to.

Restaurant News: The Valley is booming with ethnic restaurants. Here are three I'm looking forward to visiting:

Priya, 1761 East Warner, Tempe, 777-3466. Six months ago, there were no Indian restaurants in town serving southern Indian cuisine. Now there are two, Pasand and Priya. Look for idli, methu vada, masala dosa and utappam, as well as more familiar northern Indian dishes.

Al-Basha, 1344 East Apache, Tempe, 303-6600. It's a Middle Eastern market and restaurant. The menu features the usual suspects: kabobs, kafta and shawarma.

Little Saigon, 1588 West Montebello (Christown mall), 864-7582. It's not exactly new, but it is newly renovated. The big menu includes everything from pho to catfish casserole to eel fire pot.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at hseftel@newtimes.com or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

 
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