Bob Evans Restaurants will ban smoking at 31 locations in southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky beginning Monday, July 31. The public company decided to ban smoking because of customer complaints and the U.S. Surgeon General's finding that secondhand smoke is unhealthy, Mike Thompson, company vice president and regional director, said Monday.
"We are trying to protect our employees and our customers. Sales is not the primary issue. It's about customer satisfaction," he said.
Bob Evans, founded in Gallipolis, as a trucker's diner that featured sausage, is now based in Columbus. It has 589 Bob Evans and 104 Mimi's Café restaurants nationwide and employs 50,810 people across the country.
The move was greeted with praise by local anti-smoking advocates such as Ahron Leichtman, director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition on Smoking and Health and opponent of cigarette smoking who is working for a statewide ballot initiative to make all bars, restaurants, workplaces and public places smoke-free.
"It is long overdue," said Leichtman, who has crusaded against public smoking since 1969.
The 31 restaurants cover a wide geographic area, from Hillsboro and Wilmington in rural Ohio to the north, through suburban Cincinnati and into Northern Kentucky. The Chillicothe sites are not yet impacted, according to company officials.
"What I don't understand is why they didn't do this years ago because Bob Evans caters to families," Leichtman said.
Besides restaurants, Bob Evans Farms Inc. also is a leading producer and distributor of pork sausage and other convenience foods.
U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona last month found nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 percent to 30 percent, and their risk of lung cancer increases by 20 percent to 30 percent.
Most people want smoking kept out of restaurants, according to county-by-county results from SmokeFreeOhio, a campaign to gather petitions for a November ballot initiative to ban smoking from public places in Ohio.
SmokeFreeOhio surveyed Ohio residents in October 2005 and found 74 percent of people would eat out more often if smoking was banned from restaurants.
"We hear from people over and over again that they do not want to breathe-in smoke while they're eating," said Shelly Kiser, campaign communications director for SmokeFreeOhio.
Smoking ban set for 31 Bob Evans locations