For those living in Gallia County and the surrounding region, Steve Evans Country Sausage is not a new thing. The son of the late Bob Evans, Steve has been making his own sausage since 1998 and until now kept the distribution of his products limited to an approximate 100-mile radius of Gallia County.
That is all changing thanks to a partnership with the multi-regional grocery distributor SpartanNash and an effort to make the Steve Evans Country Sausage brand better known throughout the region. Though the company will still need to develop relationships with individual chains in order to place Steve Evans Country Sausage products on the shelf, the partnership with SpartanNash will allow the company to distribute into larger Ohio cities and into Michigan.
“It’s a major expansion for us, so we’re excited about it,” said Evans.
Over the last 19 years, Evans said the company has expanded in small steps to areas surrounding Gallia County, but now feel they have enough experience to move the company forward without sacrificing the quality of its products.
It was due to that expansion into Columbus that Steve Evans Country Sausage was recently highlighted in a Columbus Dispatch article. Because of that article, Evans was contacted by the Andretti family of Andretti Autosport, who had read the article and tried his product. He was invited to tour their facility in Indianapolis.
“We had an incredible day,” said Evans, who learned about the history of Andretti Autosport during the trip.
“One of the coolest things about that whole experience is the integrity of that family and that organization is as high as the bar can go. And that comes from generations of doing it right. They learned that at home, they taught it to their kids and it has been handed down generation to generation. I laud that and applaud that,” said Evans. “That’s very cool. That’s very attractive to me to be talking with and dealing with people that maintain a generational
integrity. It’s a very, very rare commodity and they’ve managed to do that and I think it’s amazing.”
In turn, Jarett and John Andretti visited Gallia County, where Evans took them on a tour of the county, with stops at Bob Evans Farm, Hidden Valley Ranch and the former Bob Evans Sausage plant.
“We sat there for a while and talked about the history, how that started and I shared a lot of stories with them about how Dad and Mom started,” said Evans.
While Steve Evans Country Sausage is not affiliated with the Bob Evans corporation, it is clear Steve Evans attributes part of his success to the lessons he learned from his parents and freely shares the history of Bob Evans’ venture into sausage making. After all, the recipe his company uses is his mother Jewell Evans’ favorite recipe from 1946, when Bob Evans would bring sausage home for Jewell to try.
“Mom was the tester for Dad and he always said she had the best palate of anyone he ever met,” said Evans.
The recipe used by his company is the recipe the family grew up eating, said Evans, because it was his mother’s favorite.
It’s difficult to separate the history of Bob Evans from his son’s successes in the sausage business, not that it appears Steve Evans really wants that. When you sit down to talk to him, he is quick to proudly talk about his father’s history, which really started just after World War II, when Bob Evans returned home and opened a small, 12-stool, restaurant next to the Gallipolis Terminal. While at first it was known as the Terminal Steakhouse, it eventually became the Bob Evans Steakhouse. It was because of the restaurant Bob Evans first started making sausage.
“Dad couldn’t get good country sausage, so he decided he would make his own,” said Evans. First, he started in his garage at home but was unable to keep up with the demand, between the needs of the restaurant and the truck drivers, who would buy tubs of the sausage to take with them. He needed a larger facility and went to his father, who was a local grocer, to invest in the idea of building a two-room facility on a piece of the Evans’ land in Springfield Township.
While the elder Evans did not necessarily believe his son’s plan would work, as he thought the price of the sausage was too high to be purchased by locals, he supported him anyway.
“So Grandpa begrudgingly agreed to get invested in this,” said Evans. “His provision was, as part of his partnership with Dad and Mom that there would be a sliding door on one end, so when they went broke, they could store a tractor inside. It turned out to be a good move because they needed the sliding door to move equipment out when it was over with.”
While at first, Bob Evans could only make sausage from October to April, because there was no refrigeration system in the facility, Steve Evans said the business grew so quickly, it only took a year for his father to be able to afford a cooler, so they could make sausage year-round. According to Evans, it is a little-known fact that for a short time, it wasn’t called Bob Evans sausage.
“Dad never thought it would get out of Gallia County. Because it was located in Springfield Township, they called it for the first year and a half Springfield Farm Sausage,” said Evans.
According to Evans, his father’s move into the retail market started in the coal fields of West Virginia. He purchased a used Heiner’s bread delivery truck, reinforced the bread racks to hold blocks of ice, punched holes in the floor of the truck to allow the melting ice water to flow over lard cans full of sausage, to transport his product. He would leave with the truck full and return empty, said Evans.
“He really made his first money in the coal fields of West Virginia peddling sausage. It saved his bacon really. We always thought, and Dad always felt the same way, if it hadn’t been for the coal miners in West Virginia, he might never have gotten off the ground with the sausage,” said Evans. “That really boosted him financially and emotionally. He realized people would really pay that price because they loved the sausage. West Virginia gets big kudos from the Evans family.”
Unlike his father, when asked if he had any plans to open a restaurant, Evans said it wasn’t on the horizon. That being said, Evans said they are always looking for partnership opportunities with restaurant chains to place the Steve Evans product on their menus.
In addition to expanding its reach, the company is also expanding its product line. One of the more recent additions is the Steve Evans Country Sausage sliders. With quality being his top priority, Evans said, unlike some other companies who use a degraded product for pre-packaged sandwiches, the Steve Evans product is the same sausage you would buy separately.
“What they’re doing is selling you a convenience and asking you to accept a lower quality product,” said Evans. “We don’t do that. We don’t make any seconds. Everything we make is all the same quality or we just throw it away. That’s the way Dad did it and that’s the way we do it.”
If you talk to Steve Evans very long about his business, you will find the quality of his product is the top concern. When asked if he had any concerns about the quality of his product declining as the company grew, Evans said, “We’ll just stop. I’d rather just stop growing.”
He has no interest in seeing the company expand to a point where it becomes all about the numbers and that extends into his new products, like the sliders.
“What you’re going to get here is our very finest country sausage cooked on a really, really good biscuit. We just didn’t scrimp. That’s the deal,” said Evans. “When you buy our products, we want you to be happy with the quality. Quality first. If the quality’s not good, why would we expect you to do business with us?”
Part of Steve Evans Country Sausage’s expansion included contracting with Gallia County-based companies, Osmosis Marketing Solutions to assist in growing his markets and increasing visibility and brand awareness, and Infinity Web Services to design a new website, which is now active at bringthefarmtoyourkitchen.com.
“They care more, they work harder and the results are always better. We’re tickled pink to be working with both of them. I recommend them to everybody. Everybody should take a look at them,” said Evans about choosing to work with Infinity Web Services and Osmosis Marketing Solutions.
For more information about Steve Evans Country Sausage, visit their website, where you can find stores that carry their product or favorite Steve Evans Country Sausage recipes, or follow them on Facebook.