Robert (Bob) Evans was born on May 30, 1918, in the village of Sugar Ridge, Ohio. The family moved to Gallia County in 1929, where young Bob and his two sisters could grow up in the company of their many aunts, uncles and cousins. Bob married Jewell Waters in June of 1940. They moved to Gallipolis where he bought a restaurant named the Malt Shop in the early 1940s. When Bob was inducted into the army, he sold his interest in the restaurant to a friend.
In 1945, when he returned from stateside service in World War II, Bob worked for family-operated Evans Packing Company, part of the time as a company officer. In 1946, he took the first step in what would later become Bob Evans Farms Inc. when he opened a 12-seat, 24-hour restaurant upriver from downtown Gallipolis. He still owned a farm in Bidwell and started the restaurant so he would have enough money to pay off his mortgage. As it turned out, that small restaurant would change Bob and Jewell Evan’s life.
Because it was located next to the Gallipolis Terminal truck depot, Bob called his restaurant the Terminal Steak House and later changed the name to the Bob Evans Steak House. Jewell baked the pies for the restaurant. Her kitchen would later become the test site for every product Bob sold. The restaurant became one of the most popular places in Gallipolis. The Steak House was best known for its breakfasts, especially among hungry truck drivers, who were his steadiest customers.
Bob wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the sausage he was able to purchase to serve in the Steak House, so he “set about trying to find a good recipe.” Bob remembered the quality sausage his family had made for years and he set about experimenting, with Jewell as a taster. He took the sausage to the Steak House customers and credits his truck-driving friends with “doing my research for me.”
Before long, the drivers and Gallipolis locals were asking to buy Bob’s sausage to take home to family and friends. Bob decided to take time off from the Steak House to make sausage. He put it in 5- and 10-pound tubs and sold all he could make. Bob knew he was “onto something” that could be even more successful than his restaurant business.
Starting with $1,000 ($500 of his and $500 from his father), three hogs, 40 pounds of black pepper, 50 pounds of sage and a few other ingredients, Bob started his sausage business from his farm in Bidwell in 1948. He expanded production in 1950 with a 28 X 40-foot pole barn building and one employee. Before long, Bob Evans was also selling sausage to groceries and meat markets and called it Bob Evans Farms Sausage.
Five friends and family members joined Bob as partners in 1953, incorporating as Bob Evans Farms Inc. By 1957, Bob Evans Sausage was being delivered by a fleet of 14 trucks to nearly 1,800 locations. The company opened a total of four sausage plants to keep up with demand.In 1963, Bob Evans Farms Inc. “went public,” listing on the Nasdaq with an original issue of 160,000 shares. Anyone who bought 1,000 shares at $9 per share then would have seen that stock multiply in value to more than $2 million today.
In 1964, hog prices suddenly spiked upward and had alarming effects on the company’s profits. Bob Evans Farms made the decision to try something Bob already knew a little about – the restaurant business. Even after prices came down and the sausage business was thriving again, the company wanted to avoid relying solely on that business and Bob and Jewell began working with a designer on the “look” for Bob Evans Restaurants. The well known “Steamboat Victorian” style was chosen with the now-familiar red-and-white color scheme. Chillicothe was the location of the first of the “new” Bob Evans Restaurants. By the early 1970s, expansion was entirely in Ohio, but by the late 1970s, expansion into other states was underway. By 1983, the restaurant division could count 100 units.
Bob Evans stayed in his long-time positions as a director and president of the company until his retirement on Dec. 31, 1986.
The only person in Ohio to have been honored three times by the National Wildlife Federation, Bob spent almost 40 years preserving wildlife on his farm, Hidden Valley Ranch, and on the company-owned Bob Evans Farm. Bob received numerous awards for his work in conservation. In 1981, Bob was named “Ambassador of National Resources” by the state of Ohio, recognizing him for “faithful service and unselfish contributions to the wise management of Ohio’s natural resources.” He also received the Ohio Wildlife Conservationist of the Year award in 1980.
In addition to being a strong supporter of the 4-H and FFA youth programs by supporting numerous county and state fairs, Bob was dedicated to helping young people at the university level. A former Ohio Board of Regents member, he worked with students at The Ohio State University’s College of Agriculture and Home Economics.
In 1976, Bob Evans was named to the Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame. He was named to the 4-H Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1978, Bob received the Ohio Governor’s Award, the most prestigious honor bestowed on an individual by the state of Ohio. An active farmer for much of his life, Bob had long supported land and wildlife conservation, as well as promoting progressive farming practices to help save the family farm. He promoted a study of new grasses to allow year-round grazing in Ohio, so that farmers wouldn’t have to buy costly grain and silage for their livestock for the winter.
Bob called his 12-month grazing idea “one of the best things I ever did in my life.”
Bob Evans’ public concern was demonstrated by his community involvement. He served as honorary chairman of the Heart Fund Drive, fundraising chairman for the Ohio Society for the Prevention of Blindness and state chairman of Easter Seals.
Bob Evans passed away on Thursday, June 21, 2007