Announcement of the ownership change of Bob Evans Farms Inc.’s restaurant and food retail divisions late in January prompted immediate questions about retention of the name on the eateries to the survival of the long-running farm festival at Rio Grande. Chief Executive Officer Saed Mohseni did a good job of quickly responding to queries and concerns, noting no jobs will be lost, this year’s festival will be held the second weekend in October as always, and the Bob Evans Farm where it’s staged remains a company asset.
The restaurants are to be sold to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital, but the team based at BEF headquarters in New Albany will continue to manage them and the food product line.
“There is no financial issue with the organization,” Mohseni said. “If anything, there is a tremendous amount of opportunity for both of the brands going forward.”
By going forward, and keeping the company alive and profitable, we can be reassured that BEF will remain a presence and vital employer in the communities they serve. We understand that in the highly competitive environment of the dining-out market there is ebb and flow, with the ebb sometimes resulting in the closing of restaurants to maintain costs. But within the place of its origin, and hopefully elsewhere, the BEF brand commands a certain loyalty we hope corporate will respect.
Gallia County is the home to two of its restaurants as well as the farm, one of the premier tourist attractions in the area. Gallia, as well as our surrounding counties, cannot absorb further job losses given the closing of the Gallipolis Kmart, reportedly by the end of March. Conclusion of American Electric Power’s sale of the Gavin Power Plant to Lightstone Generation LLC this past week has fueled further uncertainty about jobs that we hope the new owners can allay in future meetings with the leadership of Gallia and Meigs counties.
It would be a supreme irony if BEF, which began life more than six decades ago in Gallia County, would be deprived of the name and its impact on the local economy. Mohseni’s statement that the current number of BEF restaurants, including those in Gallipolis, Rio Grande and Mason, W.Va., will be maintained offers some relief. That’s a commitment we all hope will continue to be fulfilled.
At the same time, we look for the Bob Evans Farm to remain a factor in the company’s plans. The staff are doing things to make the site more than a celebration of life “down on the farm” with, for example, the scheduling of concerts by prominent names on the touring circuit. Both the farm and the festival that bears the company founder’s name are important marketing tools for BEF, with the product on display and ready to go not only in the restaurant but in the tents as well. The museum in The Homestead behind the restaurant offers a fascinating look at how the firm began and what it became.
We should also mention that the festival is a major fund-raiser for numerous local groups, from the Gallipolis Rotary Club to student organizations from the University of Rio Grande. The connection between the farm and the university — stretching back to a time when students worked their way through school via the farm — remains strong, no more so during the three days of the festival. “Greeks, athletes and clubs set up booths offering everything from ice cream to hot dogs,” I wrote for the 1990 edition of The Grandion, the Rio Grande yearbook, “while a number of students work in booths set up by Bob Evans and other entrepreneurs, dispensing cold drinks, direction and information with ease to festival-goers.” The passage of time since that observation’s publication has not eroded its truth.
There’s an even richer history of business and personalities connected to Bob Evans Farms that testifies to the longstanding local link between the company and the public. We wish BEF the best in its endeavors to stay viable in its business, to continue operating its current enterprises and remain a part of our daily routine in the tri-county area. This strain of hope was apparent in Mohseni’s comments about the ownership change when he said, “What’s ironic about this, we’re going back to where Bob Evans got started, which is selling sausage … After 60 years, we’re back to where we got started.”
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.