SANTA MARIA, Calif. - A new Cracker Barrel location in Santa Maria is set to open to the public on Monday.
Customers got their first taste of the southern comfort food eatery Friday morning.
The early reviews from the lucky few who have eaten at the still-to-officially-open restaurant are all positive.
"Love it," said customer Royce Wheeler. "There's things here that you don't find anywhere else. I'm really happy that they're here, close to where we live."
On Friday, a ribbon cutting and soft opening was held for the new business that is located in the bustling Enos Ranch Center.
"The community has been asking for it," said Cracker Barrel general manager Dan Schneider. "The food is phenomenal. The service is great, but the nostalgia and history of Cracker Barrel for its guests is something that you can't replicate."
On Thursday night, invited guests were able to sample dinner, while on Friday, other guests, including friends and family of employees, were able to check out the popular chain restaurant.
"It makes you feel like you're eating at grandma's house," said Schneider. "The traditional favorites like meatloaf and chicken and dumplings and brook trout and things like are like are very reminiscent of what you used to eat when you went over to grandma's or a big family dinner."
Cracker Barrel is based in Lebanon, Tennessee and has been a dining favorite since it opened in 1969.
Located in 40 states, the chain recently expanded into California.
The Santa Maria location is just the third one in California, joining Victorville and Sacramento, which both opened within the past year.
The restaurant features "homestyle cooking" with large portions.
Wheeler, who lives in Paso Robles, has been waiting for the restaurant to open.
She's familiar with the chain after living close to on in Texas.
"There was a Cracker Barrel about 11 or 12 miles from our house and we ate there every week, so I was like, not an addict, but an aficionado," said Wheeler. "Love the gift shop. Their biscuits are big and flaky. I'm really happy there's a Cracker Barrel here in Santa Maria."
Cracker Barrel is more than just a restaurant.
Before customers enter the dining room, they walk through an "old country store," that features everything from candy to clothes to sports merchandise to regional products.
"If you walk around the gift shop here, the retail store, you'll find things that you used to ask for when you were a kid for Christmas," said Schneider. "You walk in there and you instantly feel like you're going back into a little bit of time, but are still in modern time as well."
Cracker Barrel is one of the final additions to the Enos Ranch Center.
The sprawling shopping center located just off Highway 101 on Betteravia Road has now been open for about a year and a half.
"To see it finally come to fruition, it's good to see that and I believe it will be very successful," Chuen Ng, Santa Maria Director of Community Development. "We're glad to see all the businesses open. There's good foot traffic. There's a lot of people coming visiting the shopping center."
The more visitors to the shopping center, the more financial benefit to the City of Santa Maria.
"We believe Enos Ranch is a regional draw and Cracker Barrel as a restaurant is a key component of this shopping center being a regional draw," Ng said. "We've seen the sales tax come in and they're very good and the numbers reflect that the shopping center is indeed a regional draw."
One thing Cracker Barrel has already been successful at is creating new jobs.
According to Schneider, the restaurant now employs 225 people.
"I really feel like we found some of the best of the best in Santa Maria and surrounding area," said Schneider.
The grand opening for the general public will be on Monday at 6 a.m.
Schneider said he's expecting big crowds, so customers are advised to plan their breakfast, lunch or dinner accordingly.