RIO GRANDE — Those in Gallia County and throughout the Ohio Valley are familiar with the Bob Evans family name and the food service empire that sprung from a small family operation in Rio Grande.
They’re also familiar with the massive festival that draws more than 30,000 visitors every year.
According to Steve Evans, Bob’s son, despite the fact his family, the restaurants and products bearing his family name have become massively successful, he said his father and the family were just doing what they did best.
“Well, the most important things we learned here on the farm were honesty, integrity, hard work, treating people the way you would want to treated and hospitality,” Steve said. “We learned how to draw people into your life and learn their point of view. It was a gentle upbringing with some strength in there when it came to motivating you occasionally, but it was a good upbringing. I don’t know if there was anything special about it other than it was a good upbringing.”
That same family modesty is what caused Steve’s parents, Bob and Jewel, to be genuine folks who would treat you the same as they did when they would meet someone like President Ronald Reagan.
Steve said his father had a penchant for inviting guests, as well as sausage order customers, over at all hours of the day and that would eventually spur a small cafe operation on the farm which welcomed visitors. Jewel, as an expert cook, could whip up a meal on the fly and that tradition carried on into what it is today.
The family would also become famous for creating its own sausage as, at the time, the Evans’ felt there was a void in quality sausage product that could be filled.
“Our house was always a busy place,” Steve said.
The Evans’ eventually opened a restaurant in 1962 on their farm in Rio Grande.
Bob Evans Farms Inc. CEO Saed Mohensi said the corporation is reconnecting with the Evans family to blend the best of new business with the strength of old-fashioned traditions and family integrity.
“Everyone has a different definition of what makes success,” Mohensi said. “My view of success is the DNA of the company. Where does it come from? Who took part in making it?”
Mohensi said it was important to understand the history of where the company came from and to include their ideas in with the company’s future. Mohensi said recent marketing campaigns refocused on the old commercial jingle well-known to customers, as well as other similar efforts. Bob Evans himself can often be seen in the commercials.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the restaurant line suffered a hit as it closed 21 restaurants in 10 states with a decline in same-store sales.
Reconnecting with the family seems to be taking the food service in a new direction.
The farm festival is one of the largest events put on in Gallia County every year. Among locals, it is seen as an icon of the area. The Bob Evans brand generates more than $1.5 billion in sales and serves 80 million guests a year. The festival serves as both an example of the restaurant brand’s success, southeastern Ohio culture and family values.
“To me, it’s all about the heritage of the organization and how we can grow the organization,” Mohensi said about reconnecting with the Evans family.
Ray McKinniss, the late farm manager of the Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande, will be missed, said Mike Agee, senior director of corporate services. This will be the festival’s first year without McKinniss. Agee said there were several mementos dedicated to McKinniss throughout the festival.
“Ray McKinniss was one of our all-time great employees,” Agee said. “There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the impact Ray had on my life and the lives of so many people throughout the company and the community. We can’t replace a guy like Ray McKinniss. Clark Walker was basically Ray’s hand-picked successor. He loved Clark. He’s stepped in and done a wonderful job.”
The Bob Evans Farm Festival will continue through the weekend.