updated 1/16/2012 2:51:23 PM ET 2012-01-16T19:51:23

The founder of the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store chain, Dan Evins, has died at 76.

The company said Monday that Evins — known as Danny — died Saturday in Lebanon, Tenn. No cause of death was given.

Evins opened his first restaurant in Lebanon, Tenn., in 1969. The restaurant catered to highway travelers and focused on offering Southern hospitality, country-style cooking and an associated gift shop that came to define the chain.

He fashioned the restaurant after the country stores of his youth in rural Tennessee and used a number of family recipes. The restaurant was named after the practice of customers gathering at country stores to share news and play checkers on top of an empty barrel that had been used to deliver crackers to the store.

Evins helped build the chain into a national brand as CEO from 1969 to 2001 and chairman until he retired in 2004. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., headquartered in Lebanon, Tenn., now operates more than 600 restaurants in 42 states.

"Danny was a straight-shooter and dedicated to authenticity. It was an honor and a responsibility that I took seriously to follow Danny as CEO, and then as chairman when he retired." Cracker Barrel Executive Chairman Michael Woodhouse said in a statement. "Danny was the keeper of this special brand for so many, many years, and he left us with a strong culture that values quality and honesty. He will be missed deeply."

Survivors include five children. A private funeral service was being planned.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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