GALLIPOLIS — With the fate of the Bob Evans Farm in question after Bob Evans Farms, Inc., announced in January it would be splitting its restaurant and frozen foods divisions, Rio Grande Community College and University of Rio Grande President Dr. Michelle Johnston said the higher learning institution was currently in talks with Bob Evans leadership about the potential of acquiring the iconic homestead property.
Johnston discussed the issue during the Gallia County Commission meeting Thursday.
“You may have heard some rumors and some speculation about the Bob Evans Farm property,” said Johnston to Gallia Commissioners Brent Saunders and David Smith. “I felt this was a good opportunity for us to talk about it … I’m happy to talk about it openly because I know that the Bob Evans corporate office is talking about it openly and I want people to understand where we are and be open and transparent.”
Johnston said there was still a “great deal of work and detail” needing to be done.
“Where we stand right now is that we are working with Bob Evans to move forward with the possibility of the farms being gifted to the University of Rio Grande,” said Johnston. “It’s something very exciting because as people in this area know, that property was originally owned by the university and Bob Evans purchased that property from the university. To see that come full circle and have the opportunity to bring that property back into the fold of the university to continue to serve our communities in this region as an iconic farm which is like no other in the country.”
Commissioners asked Johnston if there was the possibility the institution would focus on building an agriculture learning program with the farm assets. Johnston said that was a real possibility in the future and something the university and college were leaning towards.
“I think the placement of these farms, history and legacy and vision for what we can do at that location, to really expand upon what Bob Evans had as a progressive and forward thinking approach to farming, that’s what I would like to see us capture,” said the president. “Through educational programming, through research and other things we can do there with partners.”
Johnston emphasized the learning institution was still in talks with a few organizations on how to execute its intent. At this time, she said there were not many details to share. Johnston said she would be at the Bob Evans Farms, Inc., corporate headquarters in New Albany Friday to discuss such details.
With the announcement that Bob Evans Restaurants would be sold to a private-equity firm in January called Golden Gate Capital for $565 million and assumption of liabilities up to $50 million, Bob Evans Farms CEO Saed Mohseni said he would continue to head up the Bob Evans Restaurant executive management.
“The farm really goes with our initial restaurant and since the restaurants are going with Golden Gate Capital, the (Rio Grande) farm goes with Golden Capital as well,” said Mohseni during a previous conference call. “There is no plan for any major changes with the business … Transactions happen all the time and this is like any other transaction. (Golden Gate Capital) is purchasing assets … The farm happens to be part of the assets of the company. Our goal is to continue to operate as we have for the last 60 years providing high quality food and high quality service.”
“The Golden Gate is the owner, just like today, we have many owners who are shareholders, but the management team is to operate the company,” said Mohseni. “(Golden Gate Capital) will own it. We’re going to manage it.”
According to bobevans.com, Bob Evans originally started his legacy making sausage at the Rio Grande farm for local grocery stores. After purchasing the farm in 1953 with his wife Jewell, they lived there for roughly 20 years. Once the sausage gained notoriety, friends and family invested in Bob Evans Farms. In 1961, a restaurant was built at the farm with four stools and six tables which would eventually catapult Bob Evans restaurants and food to national fame.
Bobevans.com says the 47th annual Bob Evans Farm Festival will be held October 13 through 15 this fall. Johnston said many in the community are interested in seeing it make its way to its 50th anniversary, one way or another. Much of southeast Ohio has regarded the event as a regional cultural celebration.
Johnston would go on to read a proclamation stating the learning institution’s commitment to continuing to help with the economic development of the county.
Dean Wright can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2103.