‘Ohio’s first turkey hunter,’ dies at 89

By Mike
Moore
Editor

Gallipolis, Ohio – He was called by some ‘the first turkey
hunter in the state of Ohio.’

He was better known as an entrepreneur who turned a 12-stool
restaurant into a ubiquitous nationwide chain.

Bob Evans, the southern Ohio sausage maker who in 1953 founded
the chain of nearly 600 restaurants that bear his name, died June
21 at the Cleveland Clinic at 89. Evans, who had suffered a stroke
in February, died of complications from pneumonia, according to
clinic officials.

Mr. Evans retired from the Columbus-based company in 1986,
quietly living on his farm in Gallia County where he hunted turkeys
in the spring with Jim Lynch, a member of the Ohio Wildlife
Council.

‘He was so dedicated to wildlife,’ said Lynch, who had known
Evans for 20 years. ‘In all my conversations with him, he was
always trying to bring the quail back to Ohio.’

Evans served on the Ohio Wildlife Council, the rule-making body
of the DNR Division of Wildlife, from 1973 to 1979.

He was replaced in 1979 by Horace Karr of Pomeroy, who has
dutifully carried on Evans’ persistence when it comes to bobwhite
quail in Ohio.

Of all his personal attributes, Lynch said he will remember best
Evans’ sense of humor.

‘We were in a (Bob Evans) restaurant down around Rio Grande a
few years back and we got up to the cash register and there was a
picture of Bob in his younger days,’ Lynch recalled. ‘I said ‘Gee,
Bob who is that in the picture.’ And he said ‘Why, it’s Clark
Gable, don’t you recognize him?”

Evans is the only person in Ohio history to be recognized three
times by the National Wildlife Federation for work on behalf of
conservation. He is a member of the Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame
and 4-H Hall of Fame. He is the only lifetime member of the Ohio
4-H Foundation board of trustees.

Gov. Ted Strickland characterized Mr. Evans as a true
original.

‘His life’s work was bringing the warmth, hospitality and good
food of Ohio to rest of the nation,’ the governor said. ‘I’ve
appreciated the opportunity to know Bob personally and greatly
admired his wit, his intellectual curiosity and his deep love for
his native state. ‘

Evans’ life’s work was in the restaurant business. In the
beginning, he complained that he could not get good sausage for the
restaurant he started after World War II in Gallipolis in southeast
Ohio.

Starting with $1,000, a couple of hogs, 40 pounds of black
pepper, 50 pounds of sage, and other secret ingredients, he opted
to make his own, relying on the hog’s best parts as opposed to the
scraps commonly used in sausage. He began selling it at the
restaurant and mom-and-pop stores, and peddled tubs of it out of
the back of his pick-up truck.

It marked the beginning of what is now a restaurant chain with
sales of $1.6 billion in the fiscal year ended April 28 with 590
restaurants in 18 states. The company also operates 108 Mimi’s Cafe
casual restaurants in 19 states, mostly in the west. Its sausage
and other products are sold in grocery stores.

‘You might say the truck drivers did my research for me,’ he
said. ‘They would tell me that this was the best sausage they ever
had, and then buy 10-pound tubs to take home.’

Evans formed Bob Evans Farms in 1953 with five friends and
relatives. The chain emphasizes farm-fresh food, cleanliness, and
service in a homey atmosphere.

The original Bob Evans restaurant opened in 1962 at the farm
near Gallipolis in southeast Ohio to serve the growing number of
visitors who stopped by. The restaurant, called The Sausage Shop at
first, started with 12 stools.

‘People like to deal with farmers. They like to buy stuff from
the farm. They think it’s fresher,’ Evans said in a 2003 interview.
‘In their mind, it’s better and they’re willing to pay more for
it.’

Evans and his family appeared in the company’s early
advertising, with Evans frequently wearing a Stetson and a string
tie.

‘Bob Evans is an icon of southern Ohio,’ said Chris Boring,
president of Boulevard Strategies, a Columbus-based company that
follows the retail industry. ‘Family values are reflected at every
aspect of the operation, from the menu to the decorations.’

Anyone who bought 1,000 shares of Bob Evans when the company
went public in 1963 at $9 per share would have shares worth more
than $2 million today.

Evans is survived by his wife, Jewell, and five of his six
children. He was born on May 30, 1918 in Sugar Ridge, which is in
Wood County in northwest Ohio.

Information from The Associated Press and Gongwer News Service
was used in this story.

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