Originally founded in 1953 as a maker of premium sausages before opening its first restaurant on Bob Evans’s Rio Grand, Ohio, property in 1962, the Bob Evans Farms, Inc. brand name has long been associated with home-style food and a farmhouse-style decor. In the past, its restaurants were defined by rich wooden accents, partitioned picture windows, and an overall barn-like aesthetic, but a decade into the new millennium, those at the top of the company began to see a need for modernization.
“We decided four years ago that we wanted to grow the business and become a leader in the midscale, fast-casual [dining] segment, and to do that we needed to be a relevant brand,” says Mark Baldwin, vice president of design and construction. Hired in 2012, Baldwin is now overseeing Bob Evans’s remodeling program, known as the Farm Fresh Refresh, and since he joined, the brand’s restaurants have been renovated at an ever-increasing clip. He and the company hope to completely retrofit the entire chain for a new kind of customer before the end of fiscal year 2014—a daunting feat for an operation with 565 locations in 19 states.
At its remodeled locations, the updated style of Bob Evans is evident as soon as a customer pulls into the parking lot. “From an exterior standpoint, key elements include repainting the restaurants and changing the exterior signage from a yellow face to a white face,” Baldwin says. “It’s cleaner and crisper, and it signals that there’s a change.”
Inside, the facelift is even more dramatic, with modern touches such as new tile flooring, white trim, brighter paint colors and wall coverings, updated tables and chairs, and updated artwork. “We’re trying to become more contemporary rather than having a farmhouse-style box, and the look is fresh from the minute you walk in the door,” Baldwin says.
REMODELING PROGRESS: THE FARM FRESH REFRESH
2010: 1 remodel (prototype) completed
2011: 32 remodels completed
2012: 90 remodels completed (Mark Baldwin is hired)
2013: 199 remodels completed
2014: 226 remodels planned
Other significant changes include the addition of a bakery case surrounded by shelving, an optimization of the carry-out area to support Bob Evans’s growing off-premises business, and progressive alterations to restrooms. “Many stores were built before the Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect in 1990, so we had to upgrade to be compliant, but we also wanted to provide more comfortable restrooms for our guests,” Baldwin says.
While the changes are welcome, managing the Farm Fresh Refresh has still involved challenges. “To successfully execute a remodel program of this size and speed, there has to be cross-functional collaboration and alignment, and the logistics alone to manage multiple trades has been a significant team effort,” Baldwin says. “My team has done a phenomenal job—with limited resources—contributing to the success of this critical company initiative.”
The biggest challenge, however, has been finding ways to meet the needs of a newer, younger demographic without losing the Bob Evans style that appeals to the chain’s core customer. “We’re trying to expand our brand appeal, but we’re doing it with caution because we don’t want to put off any of our loyal customers by going too far from a design perspective,” Baldwin says.
Now that a prototype design is in place, most remodels take only one week. At each location, a construction crew closes down the restaurant on Sunday at 8 p.m., and by the following Friday at 4 p.m., it’s remodeled and ready for the operations partners. “They have a day and a half to walk through the changes and train our partners on the additional sales layers being added before opening for breakfast on Sunday morning,” Baldwin says.
It’s a tight schedule, but Baldwin has the experience for the job. After working at the Gap for six years, he moved to Starbucks, where he worked as a director of design and construction for another eight years. Then, he joined Abercrombie & Fitch at a time when the company was globally renovating buildings—some more than 100 years old—for new flagship stores.
Baldwin came to Bob Evans two years after it started its Farm Fresh Refresh in fiscal year 2010 with a single prototype restaurant. By 2011, it had firmed up the prototype in order to do 32 more remodels. In fiscal year 2012, though, things took off. Baldwin and his team did 90 remodels his first year, then another 199 in 2013. That’s when the numbers really began to bare out Bob Evans’s efforts. “Existing customers were saying the Farm Fresh Refresh was hitting the mark, and comps showed that sales had increased by four to five percent in remodeled restaurants,” Baldwin says. “Now it’s our goal to finish the entire fleet, a total of 226 stores, … and to do that, we have to complete six to eight remodels a week.”