Chris Evans, of Evans Food Company, poses in front of a blue backdrop with the words "Walmart, Investing in American Jobs Open Call" printed on it
Chris Evans, of Evans Food Company, has grown his business from a one-man show into a 10-person operation. Its Grove Salsa can now be found in 300 Walmart stores. (Photo by Chris Evans)

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When he was young, Chris Evans wanted to build a real estate empire, but life had other plans.

Instead, he is the proud owner of Evans Food Company, a food-based manufacturing and bottling company in Springfield.

Evans has some big clients: Disney World, Disney Cruise Line and Universal Studios. His products can be found in 300 Walmart stores, 85 Hy-Vees and 90 Schnucks supermarkets. Evans Food Company distributes barbecue sauce for Jack Stack BBQ in Kansas City and salsa for Mexican Villa in Springfield. It also offers services like labeling, branding and recipe development.

The company is a longtime dream for Evans.

“I always wanted to own a business,” the 34-year-old said. “I assumed it would be a restaurant because all my experience was in restaurants, but I wanted to get out of the restaurant industry to spend more time with my family.”

Food manufacturing combined his skillset and passion.

The business is exploding. Since 2018, he’s gone from a one-man show to 10 employees. Evans Food Company grew from $600,000 in sales in 2018 to $2.5 million in 2023. His goal is $5 million in sales in the next three years.

Evans says he’s always hustling and dreaming big.

Clutching onto big dreams in rough times

Evans started working in restaurants at age 15. By age 19, he had squirreled away enough money to buy his first house. The plan was to buy a home every two years and build a little real estate empire.

“That didn’t happen,” he chuckles.

At 20, he became a father and left college to support his family. He worked at Red Lobster making $13 an hour. Times were rough. At one point, Evans said he and his wife had a garage sale to earn enough cash to buy milk and diapers for their son.

Bottles of Hopsing sauces on a white background
Chris Evans took out equity out of his home to purchase Marshfield's MBDR Foods, the maker of Hopsing products including Springfield-style cashew chicken sauce. (Photo by Chris Evans)

Too proud to take help, he clutched onto big dreams and continued to work hard. In his early 20s, Evans was promoted to manager of Red Lobster and moved to Kansas for the position for a few years.

Eventually, he returned to Springfield and managed several restaurants, from TGI Fridays to Panda Express.

Launching Evans Food as a one-man show

Bottles of salsa from Grove Salsa Company
Evans Food Company's first big acquisition was the Grove Salsa Company in Springfield. Chris Evans said the salsa was “flying off the shelves” during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Chris Evans)

In 2018, MBDR Foods, a company in Marshfield that had been around since 1991, was for sale. The company produced Hopsing products, such as a Springfield-style cashew chicken sauce. Evans took equity out of his home and bought the business. Its footprint was local and regional, but he wanted to expand nationwide.

He was a one-man show initially. Evans single-handedly made the sauce, then distributed it within a 150-to-200-mile radius of Springfield. The first person he hired was a driver.

Evans' first big expansion came during the COVID-19 pandemic when he acquired the Grove Salsa Company, based in Springfield. He also purchased a building with 3,000 square feet of production space and 5,000 extra feet that was being leased to other businesses in four spaces. Those businesses meant he had rent coming in and also room to expand when he needed to.

“During the pandemic, the salsa was flying off the shelves,” he said. “I couldn’t keep up at first, and then I ran into issues getting glass.”

Missouri-made products

A big break came when Evans applied to sell product to Walmart and was invited to Bentonville, Arkansas, to give his sales pitch for Grove Salsa. It worked and as of January 2024, the salsa can be found in 300 Walmart stores.

Evans bottles many Missouri-made products, including the salsa for Tortilleria Perches in Springfield. Silver Dollar City uses his cashew chicken sauce.

Greek Island Spice joins the family

White square ramekins filled with products from Greek Island Spice.
Chris Evans and Evans Food Company acquired Greek Island Spice in 2023. Evans moved production from Florida to Springfield. (Photo by Chris Evans)

In 2023, Evans continued his growth and bought Greek Island Spice, which had been manufactured in Florida. Disney World and Universal Studios use Greek Island products. Greek Island Spice makes gourmet products such as hummus, chermoula and chimichurri.

For months, he flew back and forth to Fort Lauderdale, then shut down the Florida plant and moved production to Springfield. Evans recently hired chef Lou Rice to work on quality control for the Greek Island line.

“Greek Island was in business with Disney for 30 years,” Evans said. “I just want to make sure these products are being made the same way they have been made for the last 30 years. I want to make Disney happy, obviously.”

In the past, Greek Island Spice was only used at Disney World and not Disneyland, because the production facility was in Florida and Disneyland is in California. Now that it’s being produced in the Midwest, it is closer in proximity so he’s eyeing the California theme park as a future customer.

He’s still looking for ways to grow both the product line and distribution.

Long hours, ‘but not restaurant hours'

Chris Evans and his wife Katya pose for a picture with their two sons, ages 13 and 9
Chris Evans, owner of Evans Food Company, and wife Katya have two sons, ages 13 and 9. (Photo by Chris Evans)

Despite working 12-hour days, Evans said it’s still better than the restaurant industry. They are long hours, “but not restaurant hours,” he said.

Evans has two sons, ages 13 and 9, and when he gets home, he’s home. On weekends, he’s free to camp or play baseball with his kids. Before, he was always at work when they were home and never had time on the weekends, a restaurant’s busiest time.

Evans is in SGC Foodservice and wants to get into Associated Wholesale Grocers. While demand is robust in this market for Hopsing products, Evans wants to expand more nationwide.

“The thing I am working on now is global food safety initiative certification, that will open doors to all the big players,” Evans said. “I never stop. I always have something up my sleeve.”

Find it: For more information, visit the Evans Food Company website

Juliana Goodwin

Juliana Goodwin is a freelance journalist with experience covering business, travel and tourism, health, food and history. She is a former Food and Travel Columnist for the Springfield News-Leader, a former business reporter for The Joplin Globe, and has written for USA Today and Arkansas Living Magazine, among others. More by Juliana Goodwin