From Krystal to Cristal (With Apologies to Both)

Within a period of 15 short years, two very different products became commercially available in the United States.

Krystal is an American fast food restaurant chain known for their small, squared hamburgers with steamed-in onions, and 24/7 business hours. It is often described as the Southern equivalent of the older Midwest American hamburger chain White Castle.

Founded October 24, 1932, in my hometown, Chattanooga, Tennessee, during the first years of the Great Depression, entrepreneur Rody Davenport Jr. and partner J. Glenn Sherrill theorized that even in a severe economic upheaval, “People would patronize a restaurant that was kept spotlessly clean, where they could get a good meal with courteous service at the lowest possible price.” The restaurant’s first customer, French Jenkins, ordered six “Krystals” and a cup of coffee, all for the “bargain” price of $0.35 thus proving their theory true.

Cristal champagne first became available in the US in 1945. The golden bottle glows due to the liquid gold honey inside which entices you to consume it. The company was founded in 1776 but Cristal itself was created in 1876 for the exclusive use of the Russian Tzars. It is produced in limited quantities and only in exceptional years.

At a Sotheby’s auction in New York in Dec 2005 a bottle of Cristal Brut 1990, Millenium 2000, Methuselah (6 Litres) sold for $17,625.

And now to present day—the highlight of my marathon weekend in Phoenix was staying with my wife Chris’ cousin Terri and her husband Steve. They live in Scottsdale and graciously invited us to stay with them for a few days. Their hospitality was impeccable and their beautiful home warm and cozy.

But the real magic of the five days was our time together. As we talked endlessly over fabulous food and drink, we reminisced about days gone by. Terri and Chris grew up in a tiny rural community called Keith outside the “big” city of Ringgold, GA (Ringgold was made “famous” for Dolly Parton’s underage courthouse marriage).

I moved to Ringgold from the Appalachian foothills of Tennessee in the ninth grade and Steve grew up there. Our little Georgia town was adjacent to Chattanooga, TN, had one traffic light and one restaurant called Chow Time. You may remember passing our two exits while traveling I-75.

This past Sunday evening, as we enjoyed fabulous food and wine at Rancho Pinot in Scottsdale, the conversation turned to how fortunate we’ve all been to travel the world and enjoy  the diverse regional cuisine. The conversation turned to the champagne region of France and inevitably when you discuss fine bubbly, you talk Cristal.

Terri and Steve have had the good fortune to drink Cristal (unfortunately, Chris and I have yet to savor that taste) and as they talked about how delightful it was, I exclaimed, “My gosh, Terri, you guys have come all the way from Krystal to Cristal!

As children growing up in close proximity to the fast food restaurant’s birthplace, it was always a rare treat for us to travel to Chattanooga (about 10 miles or so) and have a few “Krystals.” There was always a contest to see who could eat the most of those ten cent onion-filled, steaming wonders.

From Krystal to Cristal.

So what is the point of this story?

First, we haven’t forgotten where we came from. A tremendous portion of the joy of our all too short days together was talking about our childhood—both the good and the bad. It’s not enjoyable to grow up poor and have others more fortunate make fun of you. And yet, somehow, we managed to dare to dream, to persevere and to realize the American dream. Many of the lessons learned the hard way in rural America have stood us in good stead as we all four became successful entrepreneurs.

Second, we are able to adapt and even enjoy almost any situation.
One of the gifts of poverty is a thankfulness for food. Any food. It was hilarious to talk about the culinary challenges of our world travels. From fermented goats milk in Central Asia to pigs snout in China to octopus brains in Venice, we realize that what one country despises is another’s delicacy. Many times the key to a crucial global business deal is the ability to show respect to one’s host and their culinary tastes.

Third, we are able to equally respect and feel at home with world leaders, celebrities and common laborers.
This is a rare gift indeed. Our rural upbringing taught us that a southern accent or a job of manual labor is not necessarily indicative of low intelligence. In fact, I have met many common laborers from the deep south of America who have far more capacity for intelligent decisions and common sense than their “elite” fellow Americans from the intellectual and academic Northeast.

Fourth, we are able to savor the blessings of life.
When one grows up relishing a ten cent hamburger as a culinary rarity and treat, it produces a profound thankfulness when good ‘ole American hard work provides the opportunity to taste a rare and costly drink created for kings.

So my apologies to both Krystal and Cristal for using such diverse examples for this story.

However, you will not find here an apology for success, nor hopefully its arrogance, simply a profound appreciation for its rewards.


What are you savoring now that was only a dream during childhood?

21 Responses to “From Krystal to Cristal (With Apologies to Both)”

  1. Ah Krystal. I haven’t eaten one in over a decade. Although, like Pringles, you can never eat just one.

    As you know, I grew up in Dalton (GA) and Chattanooga was always a special trip, because we typically only went there to shop for Christmas. The thing we looked forward to the most was stopping by the Krispy Kreme before hitting the interstate back home. And this was before Krispy Kreme was cool and corporate.

    To answer your question, I’m savoring many things I dreamed of as a kid hermit wandering the woods of Dug Gap: travel, poetry, music, the love of a woman. I’m fortunate to have had a small town like Dalton in which to grow up, but equally fortunate to have lived in many cities and states throughout my life and to learn that the world isn’t Dalton (contrary to what some still think).

    But I would say the thing I most savor, that I wished for as a kid, is I never lost my Neverland. I’ve been able to somehow hold onto the source of joy I tapped as a child. And I get to keep returning, even at the age of 40.

    • @Keith Jennings, Ah yes. Keith, another beautiful, magical comment.

      That would be a great blog post for you if you haven’t already written it: “I never lost my Neverland.”

      Here is one of my fav exchanges from “Finding Neverland”

      Peter Llewelyn Davies: This is absurd. It’s just a dog.
      J.M. Barrie: Just a dog? *Just*?
      [to Porthos]
      J.M. Barrie: Porthos, don’t listen!
      [to Peter]
      J.M. Barrie: Porthos dreams of being a bear, and you want to shatter those dreams by saying he’s *just* a dog? What a horrible candle-snuffing word. That’s like saying, “He can’t climb that mountain, he’s just a man”, or “That’s not a diamond, it’s just a rock.” Just.

  2. Randy,
    Great post. There’s something to be said in taking the time to stop and reflect, and appreciate where we came from, and where we’re going.

    One thing I’m able to savor now, thanks to … as you put it … “good ‘ole American hard work”, combined with the unmistakable touch of God’s favor … is travel.

    I’ve been to Africa, South America (multiple times), Canada, Mexico …
    I’ve yet to enjoy Europe – Joy and I have it on our list.

    The wonderful thing is that we’re able to go as a family too …

    Every father wants his children to be more blessed, and to go farther, and do better. The extent of vacation or family travel for me growing up was a week at the beach in Florida. And don’t get me wrong – we LOVED IT, it was AWESOME.

    Our kids are enjoying great travel and vacation. We’re all going on a cruise to the Bahamas together in April.

    What I don’t want to happen is to see my kids enjoying it all, to the point where they don’t have an appreciation when they are older. I want them to enjoy the blessings of the Lord … but to be grateful. I want to constantly be putting life in perspective for them. One way for me to do this is taking them on mission trips to countries in poverty. I’ve not ventured out in this yet, as they are still young … but they’re getting “of age” quickly.

    This reminds me of a great convo that myself, Joy, Chris, and you had over our cajun cuisine at Blackwater Grill on SSI!

    • @Fred McKinnon, Yes, indeed. I remember that convo.

      I can so relate to your quote: “Every father wants his children to be more blessed, and to go farther, and do better. The extent of vacation or family travel for me growing up was a week at the beach in Florida.”

      Thanks, Fred. Travel is a magical gift.

  3. Johnna Bigelow January 19, 2011 at 10:21

    God has fulfilled so many of my dreams from my childhood and your thoughts really resonate with me. However, the realization of a dream fulfilled occurred so serendipitously one night that it moved me to joyful tears. While in college, a friend and I discovered “The Big Chill” at “The Kentucky Theater” in downtown Lexington, KY. We loved this movie and made several spontaneous trips back to watch it before the completion of the run. One of my favorite scenes was where the friends were dancing in the kitchen. Such a joyful scene of friendships and carefree abandon. I wanted to have friends like that some day.

    Fast forward 25 years. I have been blessed with an amazing husband, kids and home that our friends are drawn to, in spite of it being quite small by the McMansion standards of most of our peers. Yet, it’s colorful, eclectic, loud in music and laughter. No matter the reason for the gathering, everyone gravitates to our kitchen and we roll the kitchen island away and it becomes a dance floor. We had been doing this for some time when one night it dawned on me, “I’m living in ‘The Big Chill’ with friends dancing in my kitchen!” Not only was it a dream fulfilled, it was one that I had tucked so far back in my mind, I’d forgotten I’d dreamed it. God’s pretty cool like that! I was moved to happy tears…just a few…no one probably noticed. But I’ll never forget it.

    I don’t know if this will work or not, but here is a link to a photo from one of our Kitchen Dances during our “Bigeloween 2010” party.

    As always, thanks for giving me a chance to pause and ponder during my hectic daily schedule.

  4. You know this is a topic that hits “home” for me (pun intended)…

    I never dreamed of having a husband in my life who would unapologetically challenge and build me up. But I’m savoring the fact that I have one. And I’m savoring space to create. And the new opportunities for my art. And I’m savoring mentorship–the kind that will reach into Georgia and pick my head up to this big-small world I live in.

  5. I love this kind of blog. Interesting the blessing that come from being able to experience the present Crystal and the privilege on occasionally remembering or even experiencing the old Krystal. There is something of beauty and a strange melancholy in both experiences. Thanks for the blog my friend.

  6. Buy the way I think the old White Castle ones were called “Sliders” Krystals had square edges so you had to swallow two or three times to get them down. You actually burned calories gettin em to the bottom.

  7. I’ve been looking forward to reading this. As always, it is beautifully written and has captured the moment completely. This weekend together was good for the soul. Krystal and Cristal…I’m a fan of each but have certainly savored far more of the former than I ever will of the latter (and that’s OK by me). As I say to one of my dear friends, let’s tuck this memory away for a rainy day. It will be there when we need it.

    • @Terri Ware, Thanks, Terri. It was indeed a weekend good for the soul. And I’m tucking your saying away right now, I love it! “Let’s tuck this memory away for a rainy day. It will be there when we need it.”

      Thanks again for a perfect and all too short weekend and for the inspiration to write this post.

  8. Randy, I really loved this post. I too come from humble means and small town providence. Today, I have not only the abundance of things good but also the cherished memories of places, passions and portions experienced. There are those times when it feels a bit self indulgent to express them and then moments when time offers an opportunity to tell a good story… thanks for sharing yours.

  9. Janet Williams Kemp January 21, 2011 at 10:18

    This is a great article. I grew up in Chattanooga, and Daddy would sometimes bring home a bag of Krystals for us 4 children. He always laughed at what a bargain it was! Last night Mother had a craving for them, so she got a Senior meal (2 Krystals, fries and a small drink) for $3. Still a bargain, these days. If you don’t want fries, you can get their quite good chili. But I digress. Way back when, all you could get really, was Krystals. That was enough.
    We were happy, times were happy, life was pleasant.

    My son graduated from American University’s Washington College of Law. When his father and I took him for a celebratory dinner at one of DC’s memorable restaurants, his lady friend brought along a bottle of Cristal champagne. It is entirely worthy of its reputation.

    Perhaps both Krystal and Cristal merit crystal.


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