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As Family Dining Chains Lose Steam, Bob Evans Jumps Ship

Canadian Pacific/Flickr
The restaurant chain known for its hearty and simple meals closed 27 restaurants last year.

Bob Evans, a Central Ohio mainstay known for its "down on the farm" offerings, announced this week  it's selling all of its restaurants to a California-based private equity firm. One analyst says he's not surprised.

"In the long run, it does make sense that the public company, the remaining Bob Evans, will stick with the higher growth, higher margin food products business," said Stephen Anderson, a restaurant industry analyst with The Maxim Group.

Bob Evans announced it will focus solely on its prepackaged foods operation, which makes sausage and side items sold in grocery stores. That division has seen double-digit sales growth in recent years, while the restaurant division saw sales slip.

Lower sales are par for the course for "casual dining" establishments, especially among what Anderson calls "family dining" restaurant chains like Cracker Barrel, IHOP and Denny's. And Bob Evans has under-performed even its peers.

So what does that mean for workers and diners?

Anderson expects some big changes within the company, especially among top executives and within Bob Evans' real estate holdings - much like the new owner, Golden Gate Capital, did with Red Lobster. But diners, he says, likely won't notice much of a difference.

He also wouldn't be surprised if the new owner brought the iconic Midwest brand into areas that Bob Evans previously avoided. A franchise strategy, selling off individual restaurants to local owners, may come next.

Anderson says any changes that are made will be easier since the restaurant division will now be part of a private company, not a publicly-traded company.