October 31, 2013
As the story goes, Bob Evans drove north on Rt. 23 from Gallipolis in 1968 to find a good place to base his growing sausage business.
“You can’t run a company from Gallipolis. You have to go to a big city,” said Joe Eulberg, executive vice president of human resources at Bob Evans Farms, retelling the story.
When Evans got to the “city limits, Columbus, Ohio” sign on S. High Street, he stopped and opened a sausage sales office there. Over the next four decades, the Bob Evans Farms headquarters grew as a hodgepodge of buildings.
By 2010, Bob Evans leaders had come to another fork in the road.
“We spent millions of dollars trying to fix that campus after years of neglect,” Eulberg said. “ We can spend another $30 million, $40 million there, and it still wouldn’t be right.”
So the leaders decided to buy a 40-acre property in New Albany on the Franklin County side of the Licking County line and build a new headquarters.
It came at a perfect time. Land prices were at historic lows.
“Nobody was building anything, so we had our choice of the best architects, the best contractors,” Eulberg said. “From a value standpoint, this was the best time.”
The company officially opened its $46.5 million campus on Saturday.
“We spent a lot of time doing it the right way,” Eulberg said.
That meant starting the design process with a blank sheet of paper and using employee input as a guide.
The result is a headquarters building, training center and shipping and receiving building nestled among infant chestnut trees and blueberry bushes, gardens and ponds, and encircled by a 1-mile walking path.
On the exterior of the 138,000-square-foot main building, metal window louvers and stairwell towers suggest the vents and silos of a barn. Roof lines and stone foundations echo the barn at Bob Evans’ farm in Rio Grande, which remains part of his company’s marketing images. A weathervane on the roof — moved from the old headquarters — features Otto the pig, a fixture in company lore.
“It’s a barn form done in a modern way to honor their heritage and to position them for the future,” said Lori Bongiorno, studio director at M+A Architects in Columbus.
“That’s the project of the decade, to us,” said Bongiorno, whose firm also was the main architect for Easton Town Center.
A restaurant-size, red-neon Bob Evans Farms logo welcomes visitors to a two-story lobby with polished concrete floors. Wood barn slats line hallways, where pieces of Bob Evans history or corporate values are displayed.
A glass case off the lobby holds Bob Evans’ white Stetson hat and glasses. A white 1953 Chevrolet delivery truck with the original Bob Evans Farms Sausage logo sits in the second-floor mezzanine, visible from the lobby.
Employees and visitors can eat at a Farmers Market Cafe and a Bob Evans Express counter — the second installation of the company’s recently launched quick-serve kiosks developed with AVI Foodsystems in Warren.
“People said they wanted open space, collaboration space,” Eulberg said. “In the old days, we really wanted to work together, but the old buildings made it hard to do that.”
The main building has many collaboration spaces — upholstered cubes and tables that can be moved around; long benches crafted from Gallia County burr oak by woodworkers at the University of Rio Grande; tables, chairs and couches in open spaces — as well as conference and privacy rooms.
Work spaces are largely out in the open, separated by short, modular walls in places where desks are dense. Towering windows and light-amplifying skylights called clerestories give three out of four employees access to natural light.
Lighting throughout the building is provided mostly by energy-efficient LEDs, some of which detect the amount of natural light reaching a space and supplement it with artificial light. Solar panels on the roof help keep the lights on. The company hopes the building achieves gold LEED certification for its use of environmentally friendly materials and energy sources.
At the heart of the building is a two-story test kitchen, which can be viewed from a second-floor mezzanine. The main kitchen is flanked by several culinary spaces where recipes are developed, or food is taste-tested or commercialized for reproduction at one of the company’s 560 restaurants.
Most employees moved into the building in the past two weeks.
“We’re very happy with all this, but it’s such a change from what we were,” Eulberg said. “We were on time and on budget with it, which is rare in construction.”
At the time, the decision to move and build did not sit well with Columbus officials, who had offered the food and restaurant company more than $14 million in incentives to stay. City leaders were furious that the company was leaving the city with its 360 jobs and $600,000 in annual tax revenue.
But even as Bob Evans settles in to its new place, it has fulfilled CEO Steve Davis’ promise to Columbus not to leave its South Side campus vacant.
“It is 100 percent sold,” said company spokeswoman Margaret Standing.
Starting in June 2012, Bob Evans sold several buildings, including the former Southland Mall, to buyers including Electronic Classroom of Ohio and New Mill Capital, the Los Angeles private-equity firm that buys and sells commercial properties.