Don R. Evans is the third generation of the Evans family to run Heritage Cafeteria, which enters its 50th year in October.
Business Spotlight: True to Tradition
Don R. Evans has an old-school method of learning his Heritage Cafeteria customers’ needs. He serves them coffee and tea.
While keeping their cups full, Evans listens as they tell him what they want.
His traditional methods suit the cafeteria, a Springfield landmark in the Fremont Center that will mark its 50th anniversary in October.
“I get a real quick feedback,” says Evans, the cafeteria’s vice president. “They’re going to tell me what they like, what they don’t like, what they want changed, what they’d like to see. We can adjust real quick, since we’re a small company. It’s so great to be able to change that the next day, if we need to.”
The roots and regulars The small company was started by Evans’ family members: his grandfather, Don S. Evans; his parents, Richard and Dorothy Evans; and his uncle and aunt, Louis and Patricia Lohmeyer. According to corporation filings on record with the Missouri secretary of state’s office, the family formed Evans Cafeterias on July 28, 1959, doing business as Heritage Cafeteria. Evans says the original Heritage Cafeteria opened at 1310 S. Glenstone Ave. in October 1960.
Through the years, Evans says the cafeteria has tweaked its recipes to meet its customers’ needs and stay competitive in a crowded Springfield restaurant market. While maintaining its core menu – fried chicken, roast beef and baked whitefish – more attention is being placed on healthy choices.
“As times have changed and people’s tastes have changed, we’ve kind of gone along with that,” Evans says. “We started the cashew chicken back in the mid-’60s like all of Springfield did. Since that time, we’ve come up with some more healthy items because people became more health-conscious and, you know, focused a lot on reduced sodium, offered some sugar-free desserts. Right now, we’re working on developing plated salads for lunch.”
Most of the cafeteria’s customer base is age 55-plus, he says.
“Most of our customers are regulars,” Evans says. “We have several families that come in sometimes a couple of times a week, and we have quite a few people that come in every day.”
Tom Duggan, a manager since 1980, says the regular customers and line workers develop a familiarity.
“Half the time (staff) can put out what (customers) want before they even get down there,” Duggan says.
Duggan was a high-school senior when he started working as a Heritage dishwasher in 1975, and he worked his way through college at the cafeteria.
David Foster, owner of Foster and Associates, a Springfield-based food-service and restaurant-consulting firm with clients nationwide, also worked at Heritage as a high-school student.
“I became an assistant manager at 20 and manager at 24,” Foster says, adding that he worked there for 23 years before starting his firm, which counts Heritage, Noble, Tyson, Kraft and Maria’s Mexican as clients. Foster’s currently developing a Web site for the cafeteria, and he says it should be up by July 1.
Foster says cafeterias nationwide have “taken a beating” during the last 20 years. He points to the shrinking of two of the major chain cafeterias: Luby’s 236 units in 1996 to 96 today, and Furr’s Family Dining’s 170 units in 1980 to 54 today.
“I think Heritage has stayed true to their tradition and their roots,” Foster says, citing its food quality and service.
Surviving a split Under management by Evans and his cousin, Mike Lohmeyer, Heritage reached a high of four locations during the 1980s. But by 1995, the partnership dissolved following the death of the cousins’ grandfather, Don S. Evans. The elder Evans served as the glue that held Heritage together, and the cousins had different visions for the cafeteria’s future.
The cousins decided to split the business with Don R. Evans taking the Battlefield location and rights to the business’ name, and Lohmeyer taking the locations at 210 E. Sunshine St. and Glenstone Avenue, which were renamed Mrs. O’Mealey’s. The Mrs. O’Mealey’s locations closed in 1998 and 2002.
The fourth location, at North Town Mall, already had closed at the time of the split. Though he declines to disclose revenues, citing a company policy started by his father, Evans says the one location is more profitable than operating three.
Since starting, Evans says, the cafeteria has seen an increase in customer numbers every year since 1960 before leveling off in 2007 and declining for the first time in 2009. The cafeteria averaged 928 customers daily 2004–08, before falling to 800 a day in 2009, he said.[[In-content Ad]]