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Evans, Boblocked

(30 May 1918–21 June 2007)
  • Henry Franklin Tribe

Robert Lewis "Bob" Evans.

In front of his restaurant in Rio Grande, Ohio, 6 May 2003.

Courtesy of AP Images.

Evans, Bob (30 May 1918–21 June 2007), founder of Bob Evans Farms, was born on May 30, 1918, the son of Stanley and Elizabeth Lewis Evans, grocers, near Sugar Ridge (Wood County) in Northwestern Ohio. In 1924, when Bob was five, the Evans' moved to the Ohio River town of Gallipolis (Gallia County) in Southeastern Ohio where the parents had relatives. Evans' parents were products of a Welsh immigrant community that prospered in the region. Along with an older brother, Stanley Evans established the Evans Grocery Store, which grew into a chain of sixteen outlets in the area. The Evans brothers established the first Evans Grocery Store in Gallipolis in 1924. In 1929, the brothers opened a second store in Point Pleasant West Virginia. Four other stores were established in Southeastern Ohio by 1941, at the same time, the family established another store in the Charleston region of West Virginia. In 1960, the Evans Grocery Store ceased operation. Before its run ended, the Evans brothers operated a total of sixteen stores in Southeastern Ohio.

As a youngster, Bob Evans worked in the family business, attended schools, and toiled as a newspaper carrier for the Columbus Dispatch. Family hardships led to Evans attending four different schools in his first year of grammar school. In 1937, however, Evans graduated from Greenbriar Military School (West Virginia) where he excelled in arithmetic and geometry. With hopes of a career in veterinary medicine, he attended the Ohio State University from 1937 to 1939, but left the program due to chronic migraine headaches. With his career aspirations dashed, Evans returned to Gallipolis and accepted a position as a meat salesman for the Evans Packing Company, another enterprise created by his father and uncles. In 1940, he married Jewell Waters; they had six children.

The 1940s and 1950s proved to be an exciting time for Bob Evans. In 1940, he purchased a malt shop in Gallipolis that he ran until called to active duty in the United States Army in 1943. In 1945, after the war, he returned home with an honourable discharge and along with Herb Bush opened a ten‐stool steak house in Gallipolis. The restaurant, located next to a truck stop, was first called the Terminal Steakhouse, but eventually Evans changed the name to Bob Evans Steakhouse. He also made sausage and sold it to truckers in tubs before they hit the road. Evans later claimed that he made his own sausage from the hog's best parts because he was dissatisfied with the sausage available commercial. Soon Evans was selling his sausage to other restaurants. In 1952, Evans purchased from Rio Grande College the Niamiah Woods Farm that would soon become Bob Evans Farms. At the farm, Evans established a sausage plant, and along with five family members established Bob Evans Farms in 1953.

Bob Evans continued to expand the company over the years. Bob Evans Farms became a public company in 1962 with Evans as its president. That year Evans opened his first Bob Evans Restaurant in Rio Grande to serve the visitors who visited the Bob Evans Farm. In 1968, Evans built the first modern day Bob Evans Restaurant in Chillicothe, a red brick building with white trimming and the sign featuring the Bob Evans signature. The restaurant promoted home‐style meals, breakfast, and Evans' signature sausage, and the founder's rural lifestyle.

Evans retired from the company in 1986 to devote himself to numerous causes. Evans' involvement in agriculture and soil conservation brought him much praise. Evans also championed higher education as a means for Appalachian residents to leave poverty and find a better life. The Ohio Appalachian Center for Higher Education (OACHE) credits their existence to Bob Evans. As a member of the Ohio Board of Regents (OBR) in the early 1990s, Evans recommended that the college presidents address the issue of low college rates in Appalachian Ohio. Acting on Evans' recommendation, the OBR funded a study in 1992 that found that poverty and lack of information were among the factors that prevented college participation among Appalachian Ohioans. The OACHE was established in 1993 providing assistance and opportunity to individuals living in twenty‐nine counties in Ohio.

In 1994, Evans, a Republican, made television commercials on behalf of Republican Frank Cremeans' successful campaign against Democrat incumbent Ted Strickland for a seat in the United States Congress.

By the end of the 20th Century, Bob Evans had become something of a living legend in Ohio due to his restaurants, his Stetson hat, and string tie. By 2007, his company made $1.6 billion in sales for its restaurants, having operated more than 579 Bob Evans Restaurants in 18 states, and 115 Mimi's Café restaurants in 20 states. The company's sausage and other food products were also sold in more than 18,700 grocery stores in 40 states.

“When I leave this world, I want to leave it better than when I was here,” Evans remarked several years before his death. Ohio Governor Ted Strickland called Evans “a true original.” He died in Cleveland and was buried in Gallipolis.

Bibliography

Ivan Tribe “Bob Evans: Mr. “Down on the Farm” And Fifty‐Year Mason.” Knight Templar, October 1995. Robbin Evans with Mike Harden, A Bountiful Heart: The Life of Bob Evans, 2008. Obituaries are in the Columbus Dispatch, the New York Times, and the Athens Messenger, each on June 22, 2007, and the Huntington Herald‐Dispatch on June 23, 2007.