The hills of Rio Grande clear into green fields and white fences. Among these fields sits a restaurant, silo and barn, all with the name of the farm’s owner written across in script.
The name might be connected to restaurants all over the country, but in Gallia County, the man, his family and his farm are the first things that come to mind.
“Originally [the farm] was purchased by his father Stanley back in the 1940s,” says Robert Fradette, vice president of marketing communications at Bob Evans Restaurants. “They had moved there and decided on that farmland just for the area. They thought it would be a good place for the family.”
Bob Evans started his journey by making sausages to sell at his 12-seat diner and at grocery stores in Gallipolis. Evans inherited the farm and moved to the homestead in 1953 where he continued selling his sausages.
Evans, his wife, Jewell, and their children lived on the farm’s homestead, which was built in 1820 and originally served as a stagecoach stop.
During that time in Rio Grande, Evans began to run advertisements inviting people to come down and visit his farm. The number of visitors lead to the creation of the first restaurant in his franchise, a four-table and six-stool location right on the farm, in 1961.
“That was just home and that is where he started the business,” Jeff Weaver, a friend of Evans, says.
The franchise has now grown to 500 locations and the first restaurant on the farm today seats 134 customers.
Despite the success, Evans never changed.
“I just have a real appreciation for anybody who can effectively come from nothing and turn yourself into something on your own,” Dan Brooks, a friend of Evans, says.
Weaver says Evans was such a likeable man because he never met a stranger. It’s this idea that inspired the Bob Evans Farm Festival.
Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the festival’s 50th anniversary celebration is cancelled.
The farm festival attracts over 80,000 people each year to explore the historic homestead, now a museum, while also enjoying local crafts, contests and live music.
Although Evans and his family sold the farm to his company and moved out of the area, Evans would find his way back for the festival every year.
The transformation of the farm and its buildings, as well as the festival, make the slogan that Evans ran in its ads for years a reality. Even though Evans has passed, people can still come “down on the farm.”