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Bob Evans, RIP

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11:45 p.m. July 26

Money magazine recently named Naperville, Ill. as one of the top two places to live in America. Naperville is a suburb of roughly 140,000 about 40 miles west of Chicago.
At the same time Naperville received this honor, the Bob Evans restaurant in Naperville closed down.
Both stories were front page news on the July 18 edition of the Naperville Sun.
Money magazine gave Naperville its props for its Riverwalk (think San Antonio in the prairie), Centennial Beach (a beautifully restored quarry that was a WPA project) and its top notch school system. I was a product of that school system. My parents still live in Naperville.
They are Bobheads, real Bob Evans regulars.



The thing about Naperville and perhaps Fort Collins, Colo. (which was number one on the Money list) is that how transitory the city has become. Naperville is an extremely upscale professional community, where many residents hang around for five or six years and move on.
It's not only difficult to lay down roots, its hard to FIND roots.
And Bob Evans was the slow roadside diner in a fast paced suburb.
Many hip Chicago restaurants are now opening eateries in Naperville. Bob Evans is a lot of things. But it is not hip. It is not even ironically hip like White Castle.
I saved Kathy Millen's fine story in the Naperville Sun. Her dispatch quotes several old timers and there's a picture of an elderly couple in a booth who were going to Bob Evans regularly for the last 23 years. The woman in the picture is waving her finger with fierce instruction. Her husband is obidiently sitting across from her wearing one of those brightly colored baseball caps that probably say "Suddenly Senior." They are not my parents. Millen reported the homespun chain closed the Naperville location because of "declining sales and profits over a period of time."
In other words, Naperville is losing its senior population.
I never got Bob Evans, and I would tease my parents about that. Now that it is gone, maybe I get it a little more. At Bob Evans, people got a real return on their dollar. This spoke volumes to the declining number of Depression-era regulars.
Bob Evans has the Shroomin' Onion Cheeseburger, Fishermen's Fried Cod, Pot Roast Sandwich (slow-roasted beef, carrots, onions and American cheese piled as high as the Sears Tower on grilled sourdough.) I told a friend about how my parents will be missing Bob and she said, "Oh, there's other places." No, there's no other places like this. You can get a honkin' martini in Naperville, but you can't get Golden Cornmeal Mush (two slices of fried cornmeal mush with choice of meat)---discounted at Bob's for "Our Friends 55 and over."
In the fall of 2003, I broke away from a Farm Aid concert in Columbus, Ohio to check out The Bob Evans Homestead Museum and Craft Barn just off of U.S. 35 in Rio Grande, Ohio, (pop. 750) about 95 miles south of Columbus. The museum is part of a rolling 1,110 acre farm that was the home of Bob, his wife Jewell and their six children between 1953 and 1970. The museum is in the red brick farmhouse where Bob invited neighbors to try out his sausage, which he liked to say was "made by a farmer on the farm." The recipe is still used today, and while it remains a secret, I do know that Evans sausage includes all of the hog, including the hams and tenderloins, black pepper and sage.
I bet this is part of what people talk about at Bob Evans, but I'm not sure. The Naperville store opened in 1984 and truthfully I only went there a couple of times with my parents. I couldn't even get past Bob's "General Store", which was stocked with hopeless stuffed animals, candy and the smell of potpourri. Nothing warms you up for dinner like a hospital gift shop.
Like a fine meal, diversity is essential to the quality of life of any American city. My hunch is that a city without Bob Evans is a city without many seniors and that is too bad. The strengh of a tribe is in its elders and I now think about that as I drive by the empty Bob Evans in Naperville, Illinois.


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8 Comments

I read with interest your recent blog entry about the Naperville, Ill., Bob Evans Restaurant and Naperville's recognition by Money Magazine. I appreciate your assessment of Bob Evans as a restaurant where people can get a "real return on their dollar," and the recognition you have of the importance of heritage at Bob Evans. For more than 40 years, Bob Evans Restaurants has been a favorite family restaurant for people across 19 states - and we're proud to count your parents among our regular customers.

Anytime we make the decision to close a restaurant, it is with great disappointment, as was the case in Naperville. While we have made the commitment to provide farm fresh goodness and friendly service in each of our 590 Bob Evans Restaurant locations, there are occasions where we have found we can't keep a restaurant operating profitably.

While our employees are all assured a position in another Bob Evans Restaurant, we know that our customers will not find the same quality food in a warm, comfortable setting that they had previously found in their hometown Bob Evans. We hope in those cases that our customers can visit another nearby location or continue to dine at Bob Evans as they travel.

I especially hope that you will have an occasion to dine with us again at Bob Evans.

More than one million customers each year, of all ages, find reasons to choose Bob Evans as the perfect place to spend mealtime with family, friends and business associates. We're proud that they spend special times with special people at our restaurants and hope you can again soon.

Thank you for your response Steve.
I know there's still some Bob Evans in the western suburbs near Naperville, correct?

Dave

Hey-- at Bob EVans ou could get REAL buscuits and gravy and they were good -- it may not have been hip but you could get a real breakfast there and chat with older people at the counter-- I used to go to the one in Villa Park and I never got a bad meal or bad service there. Bob Evans is part of the America that disappears before we ever get a chance to notice.


Thanks Tony.
I think there's still one in Bolingbrook or something.
Road trip!!!----Dave

Hoekstrablog....it's about time. Even your obituaries for businesses touch on the fact they mean something to someone. Bob Evans isn't Hip. It's more "hip replacement", but the seniors could definitely groove there. Places like Bob Evans help you get your bearings in unfamiliar territory. You know what you're gonna get, you know what its gonna cost and you know you're not far from the Interstate that will get you home. Friendliness skills are constantly being honed in the joint. A Bobhead has "trust" written all over him/her. They will give you directions and have the courtesy to wait until you leave to point out that you were within viewing distance of the place you're looking for. Bob Evans is what it aspires to be; Dependable.
If Naperville slips to #3 or #4 in the next rating, we'll all know why.
Are the Hoekstra parents considering a move based on this news?!?

Kevin!
How dependable is Bob Evans? The CEO jumped in on this discussion. Next time you're around Columbus, take the family on a trip to the museum. Its worth it.....Take care, Dave

Dave,

I've never been to Naperville, someday I hope to go, but I love Chicago!

Being from Maryland, I noticed one of my hometowns', Ellicott City, made the list at number 1.

The problem is, Frederick, MD, just up the road from Ellicott City, is much nicer in just about every way than Ellicott City. So much so that I have to believe the editors of this ranking didn't even consider Frederick.

Frederick has a great economy, lots of parks and mountains, and even more history. In fact, American began in Frederick. Seven years before the Boston Tea Party Frederick was the location of the first colonial revolt against the English Crown, and is also home to such notables as Francis Scott Key, John Hanson (America's first President), Chief Justice Taney, Thomas Johnson (Maryland's first Governor who is responsible for the creation of most states west of Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York), Barbara Fritchie and a host of others.

In fact, there is a connection between Frederick's great entertainment scene and Chicagoland:

http://www.gazette.net/stories/072706/walknew100634_31950.shtml

Anyway, if you do some research on Frederick you will see how charming it is (better than Ellicott City).

Regards,
Steve


Thanks Steve.
Here in my home office I'm looking at my certificate from Maryland Marathon Baseball Day (June 6, 1992), where I helped establish a "baseball marathon record," by watching three games in one day: Harrisburg Senators at Municipal Stadium in the morning, Frederick Keys at Grove Stadium in the afternoon and Baltimore-Toronto at Camden Yards at night. The certificate is signed by the great Roland Hemond, who was the Orioles GM back then.
If memory serves, this was a post-divorce road trip for me. Or, maybe one of the reasons I got divorced. But it was a blast!!! [and it was a perfect summer day.]

Dave

No truer words were ever spoken Dave.
"The strenghth of a tribe is in its elders".
Again, it appears that today's society harks upon youth and whats the latest trend. I have always said; that most of the public are like little lambs being led to the slaughter.
Individuality is a thing of the past.
I do not frequent restaurants, but I must say that a Bob Evans always served its purpose in the market. Decent food at decent prices that surely beats a McDonald breakfast anyday. Until the next time, so much for history.

Dear Dave,
We've enjoyed the responses to your blog.  The closest Bob Evans Restaurant to Chicago would be at I-80 and Torrence Avenue in Lansing.  The nearest two Bob Evans Restaurants to Naperville are in Plainfield (12618 South Route 59) and in Joliet (I-80 and Rt. 7).

We'd love to welcome you and your readers to these locations to enjoy traditional favorites as well as the many new menu items we've added recently!

Sincerely,
Steve Davis

Just so every one knows, the Bob Evans in Lansing IL has also closed, as I found out by surprise when I tried to have breakfast on a recent road trip.
Art


Hey thanks for letting us know....Dave

We lived in Naperville for a couple of years in the mid-80's, and I well remember when the Bob Evans opened. I love their breakfasts, especially the best biscuits with sausage gravy available in any large chain in the country. My oldest daughter waited on table at the restaurant one summer, and I ate there at least once a week, so I read your notice on its demise with great sadness.

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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