When Tom and I were “sightseeing” on our quick trip to Ohio, we decided to stop in Rio Grande, Ohio, to visit the Bob Evans Farm. Even though Bob Evans is one of our favorite restaurants, we had never stopped by the place where it all started.
Bob Evans (the man) grew up in Gallipolis, Ohio. He attended, but did not graduate from, Ohio State. He married Jewell Waters in 1940 and they made their home in Gallipolis. They bought a restaurant called “The Malt Shop.” In 1943 Bob was inducted into the Army. After World War II, Bob returned to Gallipolis and started a new restaurant. Dissatisfied with the quality of the sausage he was able to buy for the restaurant, Bob started making his own. By 1953 the demand for the sausage was so great that Bob, with family and friends as investors, started Bob Evans Farms, Inc.
Bob and Jewell bought the farm where they made the sausage around 1950. He built a restaurant on the grounds of the farm because restaurateurs were not buying his sausage. The restaurant was so popular that Bob soon started another in Chillicothe. By 1970 the restaurants were spreading throughout Ohio. Bob Evans served as director and president of the company until his retirement in 1986. Today the company has restaurants in 19 states and does 1.7 billion dollars worth of business each year.
As a kid growing up in Ohio, the jingle “Bob Evans, down on the farm” was a familiar one to me. Bob did his own commercials in the family kitchen with his six children around the table. When you go to one of the restaurants you can often see a wall-sized mural with a picture of the farm. Tom and I wanted to see this iconic view.
We arrived at the Bob Evans Farm a couple of days after the Bob Evans Farm Festival, held the third weekend in October every year. The tents were still up from the festival but, thankfully, the crowds were gone. The restaurant was open and busy, as it is every day of the year.
The museum is the original farm house, open April 1 through December 23 from 10:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. We saw the original kitchen where the commercials were made. There was a complete timeline of the company and of Bob’s life. There was also a wall that had pictures of all the company presidents on it. The second floor of the house is a Laurel and Hardy museum. I’m not sure why.
There are lots of other things to see at the Bob Evans Farm. There is a small coal mine which produced enough coal for the family living in the Homestead. There is a grist mill with a display of the history of grist mills in Ohio. There is a sorghum mill, constructed in the mid-1800’s, which makes sorghum molasses from sorghum cane grown on the farm. There is a Bicentennial Barn, painted to celebrate Ohio’s bicentennial in 2003, where tobacco was dried. There is a replica windmill built in 1971. Also on land owned by the farm is the restored settler town of Adamsville and a Revolutionary War Cemetery.
You can spend quite a bit of time at the Bob Evans Farm. Of course, no visit would be complete without a visit to the restaurant. The “down home food” of Bob Evans continues to be my favorite, despite all the places we eat on our travels. After all, it is Ohio born and bred – just like me!