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?