-- An Indiana couple who first began eating at Cracker Barrel restaurants more than five decades ago completed their quest to visit every one of the franchise's U.S. locations on Monday.
Ray and Wilma Yoder, both 81, were treated like celebrities at a surprise celebration for them at the chain’s newest location in Tualatin, Oregon, which was the 645th location they had visited.
“I kind of suspected there would be a little bit of a welcoming party but not near the extent of what it was,” Ray Yoder, who also celebrated his birthday on Monday, told ABC News. “It was a little overwhelming.”
Ray Yoder said he began stopping at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations in the 1960s as he made his way across the U.S. as an RV driver. His wife, Wilma, would join him on the cross-country trips, and after many years and four children, the couple realized they were onto something and started keeping track of their visits. The franchise has 645 restaurants in 44 states, it said.
“We knew we liked to be with good food and good people,” Ray Yoder said. “But at the start of it, we never thought it’d be this.”
The Yoders were flown to Oregon courtesy of Cracker Barrel. They were greeted at the Tualatin store, which opened in April, by cheering employees and fellow customers.
Along with their favorite meal of blueberry pancakes, the couple received one-of-a-kind gifts from Cracker Barrel, including a pair of the chain’s famous rocking chairs and aprons personalized with their names and the four stars that Cracker Barrel employees earn for the highest level of service.
“It’s pretty tough for two little farm kids to handle all of this,” Ray Yoder, who lives in Goshen, said of the attention, which included being stopped by a stranger at the airport for a photo on the way to Oregon.
"For the past 40 years, Ray and Wilma Yoder have touched the hearts of Cracker Barrel employees across the country,” Cracker Barrel said in a statement to ABC News. “We are thankful to have served them so many times over the years and honored to have been a part of many happy memories they have shared during their 60 years together.”
The next Cracker Barrel is scheduled to open in Kentucky in October, the chain said.
The Yoders said they plan to visit that location and continue their tradition for as long as they are able.
“Someday it’ll come to an end, but I would say not just yet,” Ray Yoder said. “It’s still really a wonderful world out there.”