ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Cheese Krystal hamburgers are shown in this staff file photo. / Photo by Erin O. Smith

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 11:02 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019 to correct the spelling of Vickie Joiner's name in some references to "Vickie," not "Vicki."

"Mrs. Vickie," otherwise known as Vickie Joiner, is somewhat of a Krystal legend.

She's worked for the Krystal Company for 37 years, starting at the original Broad Street location.

Before that, she lived near the location, and she and her brother would take the money their mother gave them for Sunday school and spend it at the fast-food restaurant.

Joiner estimates that over the years she has eaten 3,000 Krystal hamburgers and sold or donated more than 5 million.

She used to serve one of the company's owners, Rodolph "Rody" Davenport III, ham and a biscuit with a cup of coffee between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. every morning as he came off Lookout Mountain heading to the corporate offices downtown.

She also has served breakfast to the same group of men two times a week for nearly three decades.

And Joiner remembers 2 a.m. mornings decades ago when the men working in the stockyards on Broad Street would take their "lunch break" at Krystal just as the exotic dancers from the hotel next door were finishing work and would come in for a bite.

With admitted bias and without hesitation, she said Krystal is the most well-known brand associated with Chattanooga history; that song about a train comes in second.

To say Vickie Joiner is "eat up" with Krystals seems like a sackful of understatement.

"It's a piece of my heritage. I love Krystal, I mean I really love Krystal," said Joiner, a store general manager for 27 years. "I have customers from around the country who call and order 200 Krystals that I freeze and have ready for them as they come through. Once you've had one, you never forget it."

On Oct. 11, Krystal turns 87.

***

The Oct. 11, 1932, edition of the Chattanooga Daily Times (3 cents; "5 cents for trades and out of town") featured a boxed, two-column picture on Page 9. Above the picture of construction workers at the corner of Cherry and Seventh streets in downtown Chattanooga was the headline "UNUSUAL 'HOT DOG' SHOP."

The cutline announced the construction of "an unusual sandwich shop" that would consist of 25,000 pounds of steel, cost $5,000 and be 25-by-15 feet in dimension. "The building was manufactured in Chicago in parts and the work here consists of assembling. It is portable in the sense that it can be taken apart again and hauled away to be put up elsewhere," the report said.

some text
Photo by David Lundy / Vickie Joiner has worked for Kystal for more than 35 years.

"The sandwich shop will be called the Krystal and it will open for business early next week," the photo caption reads.

Rodolph Davenport Jr., 26, and Joseph Glenn Sherrill, 27, founded the Krystal Company with that first store as America was coming out of the Great Depression. Davenport patterned Krystal after White Castle, a fast-food hamburger business located in the Midwest and Northeast that preceded Krystal by 11 years and is the oldest fast-food restaurant in the country. Krystal is second.

On Oct. 24, 1932, French C. Jenkins, who helped assemble the shop, was the first Krystal customer.

The company grew through the 1940s, history reports show, and never ventured out of the Southeast because of an agreement Krystal made with White Castle in the early years that said the two restaurants with similar products would never compete head-to-head with one another.

Krystal continued to multiply stores after the death of Davenport in 1943 and Sherrill in 1961, but the company resisted offering franchises, choosing instead to build and own its stores. As the proliferation of fast-food hamburger restaurants grew late in the last quarter of the 20th century, Krystal established its niche in the market with its square hamburgers, regional focus and a nationally acclaimed advertising campaign featuring Cowboy Sid & Sheila the Wonder Horse. The company moved into the landmark Krystal Building on Martin Luther King Boulevard in 1979.

After enduring two years of the Iran-Contra scandal, President Ronald Reagan visited Chattanooga on May 19, 1987, to praise what was then two separate school systems. "REAGAN PRAISES SCHOOLS" was the banner headline in the afternoon News-Free Press (25 cents) above a story describing the president's rally at the UTC Arena. Four stories about the visit were on Page A1 in the afternoon paper that had little time to accumulate content with the morning visit, including one headlined, "Reagan Staff 'Got To Have Krystals' On Air Force One."

Business Editor John Vass Jr. wrote, "When the people on Air Force One had to have a Krystal, they got 120 of them to go. Finding its slogan 'when you've got to have a Krystal, you got to have a Krystal' more than true today, the Krystal Co. prepared 120 Krystal hamburgers for Air Force One for its return trip to Washington."

Vass further reported, "Chief of staff Howard Baker, a McCallie School alumnus and former majority leader of the U.S. Senate, and native Chattanooga Tom Griscom, who heads communications for the White House, are known to enjoy the hamburgers."

The next day, the morning Times (25 cents) carried a similar account under the headline, "Krystal craving goes airborne."

The report said Krystal's advertising agency in Atlanta had received a call Monday from the White House advance team asking that "enough Krystal hamburgers to feed 30 people be delivered to Air Force One just before President Reagan's departure from Chattanooga."

some text
A new prototype Krystal restaurant design on Shallowford Road on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. This is the first Krystal prototype in the Chattanooga area. / Photo by Doug Strickland

The company delivered french fries and milk shakes along with the 120 Krystals. The report added another Chattanooga resident in the traveling party who was a Krystal fan, saying, "White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker or Secretary of Labor Bill Brock, who are from Tennessee, had a Krystal craving." Griscom would later serve as the editor of the combined Times Free Press.

Years later, legal issues forced the company to seek bankruptcy protection in December 1995. Krystal emerged from Chapter 11 in April 1997, and the company was sold for $135 million to Port Royal Holdings, an investment company owned by Phil Sanford, a former Coca-Cola executive.

Then in October 2012, just as the company approached its 80th birthday, came the bad news.

"Krystal Offices Moving to Atlanta" was the banner headline in the Times Free Press on Oct. 4, 2012. The report said, "One of Chattanooga's best-known corporate icons is headed south. As the Krystal Co. celebrates its 80th year in the Scenic City this year, executives on Wednesday announced that Krystal is preparing to leave the city next year."

Atlanta-based Argonne Capital had purchased Krystal for $175 million seven months earlier. Company officials cited more convenient air travel as the reason for the move. At the time of the move, Krystal operated 350 units in 11 states, the newspaper reported, and had 6,000 employees and annual sales of $400 million. There were 20 restaurants in the Chattanooga area, including the oldest location still active today on Cherokee Boulevard.

***

When Krystal turns 100 on Oct. 11, 2032, current Chief Executive Officer Paul Macaluso said, the signature celebration will be held in Chattanooga.

"It would be pretty cool if it could be in Chattanooga for the 100th anniversary," said Macaluso, who came to Krystal in April 2018.

That brings a smile to the face of Joiner, who said the day Krystal announced it was leaving was a very sad day for her.

"There are so many memories of the corporate offices being here," she said. "We could go down the street for training, talk to people about benefits and the test kitchen was there. It bothered me when they left because I felt like something that belonged to us had been taken away."

Macaluso said Chattanooga will always be recognized as birthplace of Krystal. He pointed to the Krystal collection of historical memorabilia at the UTC Library and an endowment for UTC that annually will benefit a student at the college of business.

" ... It is important to the ownership to preserve the legacy of Krystal," Macaluso said. "The first week I was on the job, I visited Chattanooga to get up to speed and understand the heritage of the company."

Email Davis Lundy at davislundy@aol.com.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT