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Why You Don't See Many Bob Evans Restaurants Around Anymore

While you can still find its popular side dishes in grocery stores, the days could be

numbered for Bob Evans restaurants.

Here are all the reasons why your local Bob Evans may have a "vacancy" sign in the window.

Bob Evans' chief marketing officer Sara Bittorf said in 2016 that the restaurant's menu was

treating all the items too equally, and that this democratic approach was hurting the menu's

real food stars.

"We did some consumer research, and we found that our menu was a little bit overwhelming

to people.

We wanted to create a menu that really allowed people to see and find the great products

that we're known for [and that] will leave them highly satisfied."

"This menu's like 30 pages long.

I haven't had to read this much since med school!"

While then-president John Fisher said ditching 20 items proved to be a popular move with

the restaurant's servers, some customers weren't feeling it.

Still, the chain continued to experiment with their menu and occasionally dropped popular

items over the next few years.

One patron wrote on Pissed Consumer,

"I just learned that Bob Evans has discontinued serving blueberry & strawberry crepes as part

of their breakfast menu [...] These were the best items on the menu."

Blueberry crepes made a quick return after that disappearance, but if strawberry is your

thing, depending on your location, you might be out of luck.

A few years before Bob Evans put all its eggs in the takeout basket, the company tried to

take a slice out of the pizza delivery market with the "Family Meals To Go" campaign.

The company launched the campaign in 2010 with the tagline, "think outside the pizza

box" and even offered a discount to customers who cheated on their favorite pizza chain

by bringing in competitor coupons.

"If it isn't hot, there's a 50 pence refund on your next purchase of diet or regular Pepsi.

The offer only applies between 6:30 and 7 Mondays and Tuesdays."

The campaign was targeted more at working parents than college students, and each meal

included an entree with sides and bread for a little less than $20.

While $20 certainly wasn't bad when it came to buying a family meal, it still wasn't as

cheap as pizza can be.

And even today, with delivery options such as DoorDash and Grubhub, the pizza market

still owns the world of delivery and takeout.

In retrospect, Bob Evans never stood a chance in that fight.

Takeout and delivery have had a huge impact on how people buy food.

The change has been so radical that some restaurants are actually scaling down space for dine-in

customers simply because there aren't enough walking through the door.

Bob Evans is no different in that they've seen dine-in numbers decline over the years,

and as a result, they've tried to offset the slide with more emphasis on takeout.

In 2014, the chain ramped up takeout efforts, and Nations Restaurant News reported same-store

sales rose 22.6 percent in the takeout category that year.

It seemed like Bob Evans had found the golden ticket to offset a 1.5-percent decline in

same-store sales.

But the takeout boom didn't prove quite strong enough to offset the empty booths.

Dine-in sales continued to slip by 3.4 percent and while takeout was up 25 percent.

it's likely that the takeout orders were cannibalizing what could have been dine-in sales, and the

result was an overall drop in profits for Bob Evans.

How bad is the meatloaf at Bob Evans?

It's so bad that it just might kill you, or at least that's what a lawsuit claimed.

According to the complaint, Harold and Virginia Starcher ate the meatloaf at a Bob Evans restaurant

in West Virginia in 2012 and nine hours later were violently ill and in the emergency room.

Their children, who filed the lawsuit, claimed that both parents were moved into a rehabilitation

center and neither ever fully recovered from the food poisoning.

Within a couple of months, both Harold and Virginia were dead.

The case moved on to federal court in 2014.

While it's unclear if the case was dismissed or it was settled for an undisclosed amount

related to the more than $250,000 the children were seeking, it's not the sort of publicity

that gets people fired up about Meatloaf Mondays.

Let's say you're on a road trip and there's a Bob Evans on one side of the road and a

Cracker Barrel on the other.

Which place are you hitting up for country cooking?

If you're like the majority of Americans, the answer is probably Cracker Barrel, which

reported healthy growth in 2018, with an increase in both in-store restaurant sales and in-store

retail sales.

Poor Bob Evans continued its yearly sales decline.

Cracker Barrel also continued its westward expansion by breaking into the California

market.

Meanwhile, Bob Evans was busy closing multiple locations.

And if you ask Twitter, it seems like Cracker Barrel has a slight edge over Bob Evans in

taste, too.

One Twitter user said,

Another added,

"Cracker Barrel.

One thing Cracker Barrel has done well is persuade its customers to spend a little more

in its retail shops.

Their old country store has been around for decades, but it wasn't until 2010 that Bob

Evans tried a similar idea.

The chain didn't go all out and start selling quilts, but they did bring a, quote, "farm-style

menu and aesthetic" to their restaurants with what they called "Taste of the Farm."

The idea was to sell quick-grab items -- t-shirts, baking mixes, jellies, syrups — so that

people could take a piece of Bob Evans home with them.

Director of communications Margaret Standing said at the time,

"We realize that the way people eat these days is not just by going to sit down in your

restaurant.

They want your brand to be reaching out and touching them in different ways."

How much customers actually wanted the Bob Evans brand to rea ch out and touch them is

debatable.

Despite the company calling the concept a hit at the time, they continued to grapple

with sales drops in 2010 and beyond.

It's not uncommon for chain restaurants to remodel locations every few years in the hopes

of bringing customers back to check out the new digs.

In 2012, Bob Evans launched what they called a "Farm-Fresh Refresh" remodeling program

of restaurants throughout the Midwest.

Besides the standard new paint job, seating, and lighting fixtures, the restaurants were

installed with a dedicated takeout section and bakery counter.

The remodeling eventually spread throughout all 561 Bob Evans restaurants, but was it

worth it?

"They just slapped on a new coat of paint and resold it for double the price!"

In 2012, then-CEO Steve Davis said that the remodeled stores were showing good performance,

but that didn't exactly hold steady in the long run.

New paint and a bakery counter can only carry a restaurant so far.

According to Forbes, the $225,000 spent per store only added to the company's growing

debt while same-store sales declined in 2014.

It might seem a little odd for a restaurant chain known for pot roast and fried chicken

to bring a French restaurant into the fold.

Nevertheless, Bob Evans acquired French-inspired casual-dining restaurant Mimi's Cafe in 2004

for $182 million.

Within a decade, Bob Evans was looking to ditch it.

Sales were on a sharp decline at Mimi's in 2011 and despite recruiting a former executive

from the Cheesecake Factory, things didn't turn around.

What's perhaps especially telling is what Bob Evans sold the 145-unit restaurant chain

for.

Leading up to its sale, some industry insiders estimated that the chain would sell for $200

million, but when Bob Evans finally unloaded its French anchor to LeDuff America, it did

so for a price tag of just $50 million.

In 2018, a group of employees filed a collective action suit alleging that Bob Evans incorrectly

underpaid them with a tipped minim um wage.

The employees claimed that they should have been paid the federal minimum wage of $7.25

an hour since they spent more than 20 percent of their time performing non-tipped duties.

An Ohio federal judge approved a settlement in which Bob Evans had to fork over $3 million

to 1,800 employees.

Four years earlier, Bob Evans was sued by a shareholder claiming that its board of directors

stripped shareholders of the ability to change bylaws with a 51 percent majority vote.

For investors who had a significant portion of Bob Evans shares, it's easy to see how

having the rug pulled out from them by a company struggling to keep its head above water would

be concerning.

It may sound like a flimsy excuse, but a nasty winter really can put a business in the red.

Executives at Bob Evans will likely speak of the "great winter of 2014" with a chilly

reverence for years to come because it had a significant impact on the company's performance.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cited the winter of 2013-2014 as being one

of the coldest on record for the Midwest, and that translated to a restaurant sales

drop between $3 million and $3.5 million for Bob Evans.

Not only does a blizzard make it less likely for customers to show up, but it also makes

it difficult for the staff.

If managers or servers can't make it to work, it results in a trickle-down on a restaurant

chain's growth.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 90 percent of restaurant operators said that

changes in local weather conditions have a direct effect on sales numbers.

In July 2018, Bob Evans announced it had tapped Ohio Buckeyes football coach Urban Meyer as

its so-called "Head Breakfast Coach."

A press release at the time read that Meyer...

"...embodies the same values the family dining restaurant was founded on — a down-to-earth,

generous and hardworking way of life that is 'The Ohio Way'."

Mere days later, the deal was off.

In early August 2018, Meyer came under fire for his alleged mishandling of a domestic

abuse situation involving a member of his coaching staff.

"I do believe he knew, and instead he chose to help the abuser."

While things certainly could have been worse, compared to the fallout of some other scandals,

it also wasn't the sort of publicity Bob Evans was looking for to boost their breakfast sales.

And it ended up being a bit of a no-win scenario; when the company announced the end of its

partnership with Meyer via Twitter, many Buckeye loyalists replied they would be taking their

business elsewhere.

Bob Evans has offered some of its most popular side dishes in grocery stores since the early

1990s.

While Bob Evans' retail foods division is now completely separate from its restaurants,

they did start out under the same roof.

The whole concept was finding a way to offer convenience to working parents while giving

them a better option than fast food.

It was maybe a little too successful.

As the retail sector grew, the restaurant side suffered and focus shifted to the company's

most profitable division.

According to The Columbus Dispatch, the grocery foods division of Bob Evans earned $9.8 million

through sales of $112 million during the third quarter of 2016.

The restaurants had sales of $223 million, but actually lost $1.6 million.

Bob Evans ended up pouring $20 million into expanding its production plant in Lima, Ohio,

all while its restaurants sales struggled to make a profit.

In April 2017, Bob Evans restaurants' parent company, Bob Evans Farms, announced that it

would be selling the restaurant division to Golden Gate Capital.

The company had been struggling with debt for years, and was getting pummeled by competitors.

By mid-2016, its profits had fallen 90 percent and the company was struggling to keep up

with the rising costs of doing business.

CEO Saed Mohseni said that the restaurants had simply become too much of a hassle for

the company.

With its packaged foods business growing, ditching the restaurant weight was the best

option.

Mohseni said,

"The sale of Bob Evans Restaurants allows the company to concentrate on Bob Evans Foods,

the fastest growing and more profitable segment of the business."

Golden Gate Capital purchased Bob Evans restaurants for $565 million, and quickly shuttered a

number of locations.

According to one spokesperson, cutting the dead weight was a necessary move to, quote,

"focus on our core brand and on aligning our marketing and operational efforts."

But it’s a pretty cold comfort to the people who enjoyed eating at the restaurants, and

an even worse situation for the workers who lost their jobs.

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