Imagine my shock to learn that the country’s second-oldest fast food chain, Krystal, is leaving its Tennessee home after 81 years and moving to Atlanta.
If you live anywhere in the South you’ve no doubt paid a late-night, booze-soaked visit to what we affectionately term “Krystal’s,” famous for its bite-sized burgers. It’s like White Castle, only it’s not. Actually, to be honest, I don’t eat that crap, okay? So don’t ask me to explain it because I’ve never eaten at Krystal’s in my life. But I understand it’s a thing with you college kids. I think it’s one of these deals where you love ’em, hate ’em, hate to love ’em, or love to hate ’em.
Anyway, Krystal was founded with one restaurant in Chattanooga in 1932, grew to have a presence in nearly a dozen (mostly Southern) states and employ 6,000 people, went public in 1992, went bankrupt in 1997, was purchased by a private equity firm in 2012, and is now leaving Tennessee for Atlanta. That’s about the typical trajectory of a modern capitalistic company, methinks.
What I found interesting is the reasons given for leaving Tennessee:
The company first announced it would leave Chattanooga in fall 2012, saying that it could not affordably and reliably support its 350 restaurants in 11 states from the Chattanooga Airport. Transporting executives to the company’s far-flung locations was simply too costly and time-consuming, officials said.
“The Chattanooga Airport has direct connections with three of Krystal’s cities, while Hartsfield has direct access to all of their markets,” Derryberry said.
Nearby access to the MARTA rapid transit system will enable employees to ride to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is especially important as the company opens up 13 new restaurants in five states this year, said Pendergast. The long-term plan is to expand its footprint to 500 locations throughout the Southeast.
Wow, didja hear that, Gov. Haslam? Chattanooga’s crappy airport and lack of rapid transit — not gun laws, state tax rates, immigration laws, or the 10 Commandments on the courthouse walls — cost Tennessee an iconic, native employer. Imagine that.
Yep, we’re talking big, socialist, government-funded infrastructure projects like a larger airport and high speed rail. The kind of big-dollar projects that create tons of jobs when you’re doing them and keep employers in the state when you’re done. The kind of projects that build communities.
Apparently government doesn’t create jobs, but government inaction sure loses them.
But hey, they’re leaving behind a museum:
“Krystal has been gathering memorabilia over the past few months and making plans to showcase the company’s rich past,” she said. “Going through over 7,000 photographs and looking through 80 years of history has been time-consuming but extremely important.”
Bob Doak, president and chief executive officer of the Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau, cheered the prospect of a new downtown museum.
“I believe something like this will pique the curiosity of visitors,” Doak said. “If Krystal wants to give back, to have a presence in this community, it would certainly be welcomed.”
That, my friends, is the quintessential silver linings CVB quote. A museum? Pfft. That’s the equivalent of a historic marker in front of the parking garage telling you about the fabulous building that used to stand on this spot. Nashville is full of them. And this is what happens when you wear blinders and are only looking two feet in front of you, instead thinking of the long term. This is the Tennessee disease: we’re incredibly short-sighted here, always have been. It’s only a miracle that things like Nashville’s now-awesome historic downtown were ever saved in the first place. But I digress.
We’ve been talking about the need for high-speed rail in Tennessee for years now. From the memory hole:
Tennessee could benefit from such a line, especially one linking Knoxville in the east with Memphis in the West. That 400-mile line could tie in to rail lines in other states.
This isn’t likely to happen, however, since there appears to be little interest among state officials or the state’s lawmakers.
The exception, fortunately, is Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, a longtime supporter and former consultant for the project that would link his city with Atlanta. Drive Interstate 75 between Atlanta and Chattanooga, and it won’t be difficult to understand the need for a high-speed train.
Tennessee was not among the two dozen states last month seeking a share of the $1.2 billion that became available after Florida and Wisconsin turned down federal funds for high-speed rail projects that previously were approved.
With Krystal’s exit, I think we know why ex-Mayor Littlefield saw the need for rail transit. It’s too bad we have so few people in state government with any vision. The problem is that we are living in a rapidly changing world and that requires people who want to spend the bulk of their time planning for the future.
Instead what we’re stuck with is a group of people firmly entrenched in the past, who spend the bulk of their time trying to figure out how we can all be forced to live in it.